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Gloucestershire Business News

Should county's Police and Crime Commissioner take over fire service?

Gloucestershire's Police and Crime Commissioner has provoked controversy by suggesting he should also take control of the county's Fire and Rescue Service.

For the second time in just over a year Martin Surl is launching a public discussion over who should oversee the Fire and Rescue Service which is currently controlled by the county council.

Mr Surl said, "This decision has been justified by the recent publication of the council's own internal audit report following recent whistleblowing concerns which, among other things, recommended a review of Fire and Rescue Service governance.

"This is not a takeover bid and never has been. But recent events have revealed serious failures of governance and leadership at the top of GFRS and the firefighters deserve better.

"When you consider the benefits we've seen in terms of openness, accountability and transparency in respect of the police service, if that can be applied to the fire service then it is an opportunity we should explore.

"After due consideration, and following representations from a number of quarters including the Home Office, staff from GFRS and the public, I have decided to re-examine governance of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

"I have the greatest respect for firefighters who already play a significant role in my Police and Crime Plan in road safety and my aim is to get the best result for Gloucestershire".

Under the Policing and Crime Act, which became law last year, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners (PFCCs) can assume responsibility for both services or they can be run by one chief officer under a PFCC.

The final decision will be made by the Home Secretary based on the evidence of the consultation and where a local case is made.

Mr Surl said: "The changes that a new and more transparent governance arrangement will bring will result in greater financial sustainability, transparency and cost effectiveness for Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, none of which is possible under the current governance arrangements".

The ruling Tory group on Gloucestershire County Council condemned Mr Surl's move.

A Tory group spokesman said: "He caused over £130,000 of taxpayer money to be spent last year investigating the scheme.

"His own independent report showed no long-term savings from the move, but highlighted significant costs. An independent report commissioned by the county council showed over £2.5m in costs to make the change- equivalent to the salaries of 28 firefighters. T

"The move follows other questionable spending (by Mr Surl) including £45,000 on a Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner and £300,000 on re-instating police horses. "

Cllr Dave Norman, the county council Cabinet Member for Fire, himself a former firefighter, said: "Martin Surl's own report shows this will save no money, but the changeover will cost millions.

"Gloucestershire people will find it hard to understand why he is taking more money away from front-line policing to spend on this. I want better cooperation with all three emergency service - which this takeover bid really undermines."

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, Gloucestershire Lib Dem spokesperson for the fire and rescue service, said: "Gloucestershire County Council has been the fire authority since 1974. Liberal Democrat councillors are very proud of the excellent service it provides to the public during emergencies and work it does on fire prevention. The fire and rescue service must stay with the county council.

"The service has led the way with innovative collaboration projects such as the opening in 2003 of TriService Emergency Centre, responding to medical emergencies and 'safe & well' home visits.

"There is absolutely no need to reopen a discussion about transferring the governance of Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service away from the county council.

"It would be much better for the county council to continue to work in partnership with the police to further develop collaborative projects."

There are currently four PFCCs responsible for governance of their local fire services in Essex, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Cambridgeshire and others will shortly be doing the same.

Members of the public and other stakeholders can make their views on how they believe the fire and rescue service should be governed in future in a number of ways.

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