Fire Service saga: Forget about an 'air war', it's e-mail madness between Martin Surl and Council
By James Young | 24th April 2019
No side can claim to have the moral high ground in the increasingly-bitter battle over who takes charge of Gloucestershire's Fire and Rescue Service.
Earlier this week, Gloucestershire's police and crime commissioner Martin Surl was angry about a leaked e-mail issued by the county council, which he labelled as a "smear" against him.
Mr Surl wants to take charge of the Fire Service, while the council are insisting, they retain control, despite claims of a "bullying culture" within the organisation.
But if the PCC felt that he was able to take a higher moral stance in the wake of that leaked, e-mail, then we have some bad news.
Because Mr Surl has sent an e-mail of his own criticising the council - and he did it on a community alert platform used by Neighbourhood Watch volunteers.
Punchline has seen the e-mail and also a response from the administrators of the alert platform that says that the message was a "breach of contract" because the message had a "political agenda."
In the message sent on March 29, Mr Surl said that the withdrawal of an invitation for him to speak at a National Fire Chiefs Council event, amounted to him being "gagged by the county council."
He continued: "It is the latest episode in a worrying trend and a blatant attack on free speech I'm not prepared to ignore any longer.
"The background to this is that I was charged by the Home Office to conduct a review into whether Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service would benefit from a change in governance which has boiled down to who is best for the job, the county council or my office.
"It has been going on for almost two years and throughout, councillors have been deliberately evasive, hostile and opaque.
"They banned me from fire stations to prevent me talking directly to firefighters and other staff; they have leaned on the NFCC to stop me talking to them and to rub salt in the wound, my place has been taken by a speaker known to be opposed to the sort of reforms I have proposed.
"What have they got to hide?
"If they are doing as good a job as they claim, why not just provide the evidence? Why try and stop the workforce from saying how good things are and why they should stay with the county council? "
Punchline was sent the e-mail by an anonymous Neighbourhood Watch volunteer who said that a number of fellow volunteers had raised concerns about the message.
The volunteer contacted the administrators of the Neighbourhood Alert system with their concerns and received a reply to confirm that it should not have been sent as it was against their regulations.
The response they received said: "We have addressed this with the license holders, Gloucestershire Police, and agree that the message is a breach of contract.
"The Alert system should never be used for political agenda and those responsible for the message have been notified."
Mr Surl has since apologised for using the system to circulate his message.
Punchline now awaits with interest to see if either side wants to take an adult view in this increasingly childish battle, one that appears to have no winners.
What do you think? Tell Punchline who you think should run the Fire Service. E-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org
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