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Gloucestershire Business News

Row over who will run fire and rescue service reaches Home Secretary’s desk

Who will control Gloucestershire Fires and Rescue Service (GFRS) looks like it will be decided by the Home Secretary, with the war of words showing no signs of ending.

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl is standing by his bid to take charge of the county's fire and rescue service alongside his current responsibilities.

Current incumbent, Gloucestershire County Council, remains adamant its answer to his request is a resounding 'no' - and that the police and fire services should remain separately run.

The council has now written a detailed report to the Home Secretary opposing Mr Surl's bid and setting out its opposition to what it calls his 'takeover' plans, citing public safety and funding issues.

All of which follows hot on the heels of Mr Surl's own report to Sajid Javid MP, laying out a case for what his offices is determined should be understood as a "merger".

Gloucestershire County Council claims such a move would cost taxpayers more, see a cut in the number of senior firefighters, and jeopardise GFRS partnerships with the council and the NHS.

Its report outlines its concerns about Mr Surl's approach during consultation, accusing him of 'selective reporting' and being misleading in his overtly positive phrasing.

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, Lib Dem spokesman for the fire and rescue service, has followed up with his own statement.

"Gloucestershire County Council has been the fire authority since 1974," said Cllr Hilton.

"Collectively, over the years, members of the council have done an excellent job in governing Gloucestershire's fire and rescue service. It should stay under the governance of the county council.

"Martin Surl should now withdraw his flawed business case and accept it doesn't stack up. He should stick to his day job, governing Gloucestershire Constabulary."

Mr Surl remains unmoved.

"I stand 100 per cent by the business case which I sent to the Home Secretary several weeks ago," said Mr Surl.

"I'm confident that in the fullness of time the truth will come out and it will begin with a report by HMICFRS (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) which is due to carry out its inspection in June.

"My motivation has always been that the future of fire service governance is business and in the sincere belief that it's in the best interests of this county.

"Sadly, I now find myself in the middle of what appears to be a political fight; but I am confident that soon the fog of misinformation will disappear and a clearer picture will emerge."

In November of 2018 councillors voted against a takeover and are disappointed Mr Surl had not abandoned his plans.

At the time, Mr Surl disputed the attempt to label his proposal as a 'hostile takeover', arguing he was simply being a 'good manager'.

In March of this year Mr Surl claimed he had been banned from fire stations to prevent him talking directly to firefighters and other staff.

In the same month his offices also published the results of an on-line questionnaire which claims to 55 per cent of respondents were in favour of reform.

Mr Surl said: "GFRS would still be run by fire service professionals, just as the police is run by the chief constable, because this is not, and never has been, an operational takeover.

"Despite suggestions to the contrary, the work carried out by my office cost a little over £30k, which compared to an estimated £4m worth of efficiencies which can be achieved over the next 10 years by adopting the new approach, seems to me excellent value for money."

Cllr Dave Norman, Cabinet Member for Public Protection at Gloucestershire County Council said: "The county council has successfully run the fire and rescue service for more than 40 years. In that time, council investment has ensured it is a modern service, effectively meeting the needs of the county's residents.

"That investment has ensured firefighters have the most up-to-date equipment, training and facilities to enable them to work safely and meet the challenges they face.

"We have a strong track record of collaborative working and an unwavering commitment to delivering more with partners in the future, ensuring we deliver the best, most effective service possible for the people of Gloucestershire. We simply don't need a governance change to achieve this though.

"GFRS is the second most cost effective service in the country, at the same time as cutting fires by more than the national average in the last decade - and cutting casualties in dwelling fires by a third more than the national average in the last eight years."

Watch this space.

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