The Big Read: Police/fire merger latest

L to R: Chief fire officer Martyn Emberson, NCC cabinet member for public protection and fire Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage, Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds, Chief Constable Adrian Lee
L to R: Chief fire officer Martyn Emberson, NCC cabinet member for public protection and fire Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage, Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds, Chief Constable Adrian Lee

Talks over plans which could see blue-light services in the county merge are still in their earliest stages, according to the county’s police and crime commissioner.

Adam Simmonds last week announced he hoped to work with the county’s fire service in order to cut costs and streamline operations.

Emergency services at a lorry fire on the A14

Emergency services at a lorry fire on the A14

But although talks between his office, the chief fire officer and the county council have begun, there is some way to go before any firm proposals are made.

Mr Simmonds has said he is excited at the prospect of a closer partnership, which he described as a no-brainer.

He said: “We obviously want the police and the fire service to work together. Since they turn up to a lot of the same incidents, why can’t we operationally merge as much as possible? We would start by bringing the offices of the chief fire officer into the same building as the chief constable.

“Office space, planning of our resources – to me it’s an amazing opportunity.

“This is the start of a journey that we have decided to go on together. This is all about making the front-line service provision more efficient.”

A spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue confirmed no specifics had yet been talked about between the two services, adding: “There are wide-ranging discussions taking place with the police to explore opportunities of how we could work more closely together in the future in order to meet the needs of our communities.

“It is too early to say how this will manifest itself and there are no concrete plans or proposals on the table. There are many opportunities open to us in the future through this initiative and we are keen to explore these in partnership.”

Fire Brigades Union

Steve Mason, from the Fire Brigades Union, said the two services were different, something which needed to be maintained.

He said: “We strongly believe that each of the emergency services are completely unique in the way that they need to work, the incidents they have to deal with and the management structure that is required to run an effective service.

“A merger would be driven by cuts and bad news for the public. It would affect how quickly firefighters get to an emergency and whether we have the personnel and resources to tackle it. The public want professionally trained firefighters when they call us.

“Even the Government’s own Fire Futures review two years ago ruled out the single governance model for emergency services. A forced merger, carried out with no consultation, is not in the best interests of the communities we serve or the firefighters we represent.”

Mr Mason also said he was unhappy his members had not been consulted prior to the opening of talks: “It is a major concern that the county fire officer has seen fit not to consult with the FBU. We were informed of the press release and the email to staff an hour before it was released. This is a totally unacceptable situation. We will be seeking urgent talks with the county fire officer and the county council portfolio holder for the fire service.”

Police Federation

Neil Goosey, secretary of the Northamptonshire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in the force, said Mr Simmonds’ plans lacked enough detail.

And he said he could not make a considered judgement on the merits of the plans until the commissioner revealed whether his proposals were simply a case of introducing some shared services or a full merger – something which the federation opposes.

He said: “The messages that are coming out are pretty mixed. They vary between merging and working closer together.

“It’s almost like they have chucked something out there to see what falls out. It’s the detail, the important bit, which is lacking.”

Mr Goosey said he was broadly in favour of police and fire services pooling some resources if it meant efficiencies could be achieved.

He said: “I am relaxed about sharing infrastructure like management, IT, human resources, where you can deliver some real savings.”

He warned against a full merger, saying: “You would be trying to bring two worlds together. Our roles and responsibilities are so far apart, merging them becomes almost nonsense.”