Police and fire chiefs have begun talks over the potential merger of Norfolk’s blue light services in a bid to reduce 999 costs, it has emerged.

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Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner said it was a “sensible” idea to amalgamate emergency services after holding initial talks with officials at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

The county’s chief fire officer added that another meeting would be held with Norfolk Police officials next month where the two services would discuss ways of sharing resources at a time when public service budgets are being squeezed.

They pledged that any major changes would involve a full staff and public consultation. However, officials from the Norfolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have already raised their opposition and expressed fears about potential job losses.

Stephen Bett, Norfolk police and crime commissioner, said he could not rule out a future merger of the county’s emergency services after the proposals were mooted by government ministers earlier this summer.

Mr Bett, who was elected as the county’s first police and crime commissioner in May, said a merger could help avoid duplication, but depended on which party was in government following the next general election in 2015.

However, the proposals would need new legislation and the situation with ambulance services was more “complex” with the East of England Ambulance Service currently covering six counties.

The crime tsar added that the “halcyon days” were over for the emergency services and whatever party was in power in two years time would need to continue to make public spending cuts.

“There have been talks about it and it seems something the government is determined to bring in, but it will probably be in the next manifesto for the next government. There does not seem to be any aversion from any other parties. We have talked to the fire people and seeing what their feelings are. It is all talk and nothing has been put in motion,” he said.

Plans to merge emergency services and place them under the control of elected police and crime commissioners have been mooted by Home Secretary Theresa May as a way of helping to save money.

Mr Bett said: “If it came my way I would do the best I could to make it as efficient as possible. I expect it is a lot of hot air, but something might come of it.

“If you have a road traffic collision, the ambulance, fire and police attend and if there is a fire, the fire, police and an ambulance possibly attends. It is sensible to bring them under one auspices and I can see why the PCCs would be seen as the people to do it.

“The government has said all blue light services, but the issue with the East of England Ambulance Service is that it is regional and we are a county service. There would have to be quite a lot of change and would need legislation to make those changes. There are all sorts of ramifications and it needs to be looked at very closely.”

One of the options might be to merge control room operations in Norfolk. The county has a police control room in Wymondham, a fire control in nearby Hethersett and ambulance control in Hellesdon, Norwich.

Nigel Williams, chief fire officer of the Norfolk County Council-run Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said no changes would be made if it meant a reduction in services for local people. He added that the emergency services could help save money by clubbing together to get a better deal when it comes to buying new vehicles and equipment and bringing control room staff under one roof was also an option.

“With tighter budgets we need to collaborate a lot more and look at where there might be opportunities to merge parts of the service and what that would mean.”

“The police and fire service has a challenge to save money with the government wanting to reduce costs in the public service and we have a responsibility to provide the best service at the best price. We are seeing what we can do to think creatively and innovative about delivering services,” he said.

However, Kevin Game, secretary for the Norfolk FBU, said the union would oppose any merger plans.

“All three emergency services are all trained in specific services and you cannot have a police and crime commissioner running a police service and fire service because the differences are so much. It is no secret that merging emergency services together is a way of forcing through more cuts to front-line services.

“Merging services is going to mean more job losses in a very overstretched service. There are ways of working more closely together without amalgamation,” he said.

Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth MP and fire minister for the coalition government, said there were a few police and fire services across the country that were looking to link up. He added that any mergers were a “long way” off because they would require new legislation to happen.

“Technically, a police and crime commissioner cannot legally run a fire service and our fire service in Norfolk is one that gets a lot of cost benefits by being part of a bigger administration structure.

“From a fire minister point of view, I am in favour of services working together and driving efficiencies and delivering a better service for people,” he said.

15 comments

  • Talk about turning the clock back. historically police officers used to drive the ambulances and were fireman right up until the second world war. However it seems to be a most sensible idea; but as usual the fire service union will oppose it tooth and nail.

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    BG

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Ah, that explains a lot backswoodman. We often wonder where the emergency services are. They are all in Cromer! We once had a police car drive through our village about ten years ago but the general consensus of opinion was that it was lost.

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    alecto

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

  • bwman-the Norfolk fire serviceincident logs are on line, found them via google some time back. We might say that the district councils and county councils have buildings and administrative centres all over the place. The services are distinct from one another and only overlap on occasions such as RTAs or assaults, I cannot see any good reason for combining the administration. We would get a camel like the Childrens' services.

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    Daisy Roots

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Excellent. Let's issue the police with buckets of water to keep in the boots of their cars and handcuffs to fireman. Imagine the unalloyed joy of the combined forces when there is a case of arson. Criminal fire. Two birds with one stone. Keep taking the tablets Betts.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Well said Alecto! I was only just thinking the same thing. Fireman with handcuffs though, no I don't think so especially on a weekend. The woman on Yarmouth seafront wouldn't leave them alone would they? Although they could swap there helmets with plod so they wouldn't be left out!

    Report this comment

    rovi

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Seems to me the fire service is half way decent and the police service is not-maybe we should put the police under the control of the fire service then they might be where we need them Seen Betts little dummy spit about the constraints of data protection after a bit of trouble associated with the Hunny Tennis festival? If he had his way Norfolk Police would hand out the names of anyone they have had dealings with to all and sundry.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • BG-perhaps that was when the police force was a disciplined service staffed by responsible adults .

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Common sense I would have thought. Good to see that Kevin Game is way ahead of things having no doubt already held a full ballot of his members.

    Report this comment

    Roy Gooch

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • Daisy Roots - You do have a point. When I see what passes for police officers nowadays it does make me shudder. We used to have a police service second to none - what went so wrong? They are so badly dressed and many of them don`t seem to have a clue about anything. I was told the other day that many of the PCSO applicants had to have additional training to bring so they could pass the entrance exam and then in a year or so, after serving as a PCSO , they then graduated to being a regular officer! Explains a lot.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • We all pay for the Police in our Council Tax every year so why have we not been asked about this where is the Public on this LESS POLICE LESS FIRE CREWS where is the safety for the PUBLIC Regarded in this cost cutting.Just look at the cost of the PCSO £23,000 per year considering they can not arrest anybody they all walk around doing nothing so why employ them

    Report this comment

    Dave

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013

  • ".........We used to have a police service second to none - what went so wrong? ......" They probably became younger than you as you aged , and everything was better years ago wasn't it . Polio , rickets , brutal old school teachers , etc etc. The usual moaning ,whingeing , from the usual troll living out his own " Four Yorkshiremen Sketch "

    Report this comment

    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • ".........We used to have a police service second to none - what went so wrong? ......" They probably became younger than you as you aged , and everything was better years ago wasn't it . Polio , rickets , brutal old school teachers , etc etc. The usual moaning ,whingeing , from the usual troll living out his own " Four Yorkshiremen Sketch "

    Report this comment

    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • ".........We used to have a police service second to none - what went so wrong? ......" They probably became younger than you as you aged , and everything was better years ago wasn't it . Polio , rickets , brutal old school teachers , etc etc. The usual moaning ,whingeing , from the usual troll living out his own " Four Yorkshiremen Sketch "

    Report this comment

    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • A bit off topic, I know, but is there anywhere that one can see the daily incident logs online? Maintaining confidentiality, obviously. I only ask, because where I live near Cromer, I hear sirens going somewhere between 10-20 times a day. Hardly any incidents are reported in the news, so where are they going? Are they just practising? In the last few weeks I personally have seen the aftermath of three serious crashesincidents, (crash near Blickling, crash near Bodham, Asda lorry in a tree near Weybourne) None of these made it to the paper-the Asda crash was the most puzzling, the area was swarming with emergency services. I would have thought these incidents would have been a perfect opportunity for the services to justify their existence? And recently I was driving out of Cromer up Holt road, when an ambulance came screaming out of Middlebrook way, all lights flashing, overtook me, and then when it got to the North Walsham turn off tuned round and ambled back down towards Cromer. Practice? Bored? Both?! I know they all do a wonderful job, but we just accept that they are there, there doesn't seem to be any real investigations into what they actually do all day. And reporting incidents would at least show the public what they are getting for there money.

    Report this comment

    backwoodsman

    Monday, August 26, 2013

  • I'm glad to see this reported at this stage. As Brandon Lewis says, a merger would be a long way off but it makes sense for those who think it a good idea, which seems to include Conservative, LibDem and Labour policy makers, to start the conversation now.

    Report this comment

    Jack1956

    Monday, August 26, 2013

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