Suffolk fire and police service merger on the agenda
10:31 19 April 2014
A full-scale merger between Suffolk’s fire and police services could be the long-term future of emergency services in the county, according to Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore.
However there would need to be a change in the law before any such merger takes place – and the Government has ruled out finding time for such legislation before the next General Election.
The proposal is one of a series of recommendations by former London fire chief Sir Ken Knight in a report commissioned by the government into the fire service across the country and published last year.
Mr Passmore said such a merger, leading to the formation of a dual fire and police authority, could have clear benefits in Suffolk.
There are already four joint fire and police stations in the county, and such a merger would bring all the emergency services’ buildings, vehicle fleets, and back office functions under a single administration – potentially increasing efficiency and saving money.
Mr Passmore said: “This is something we need to look at. I have always said my aim is to do what is best for the people of Suffolk. This is a way of improving efficiency and maintaining services in Suffolk.”
A merger of the two authorities would not necessarily mean the creation of a joint Suffolk police and fire control room immediately – although again that is something Mr Passmore is interested in considering.
At present calls for Suffolk fires are handled by Cambridgeshire fire service’s control room as part of a five-year contract that started in autumn 2011 – there could be no change in that until the end of 2016 at the earliest.
Mr Passmore has said that he would like to work towards developing a joint control centre for all the blue-light services in Suffolk, including the ambulance service which has a control centre at Hellesdon, near Norwich.
Suffolk County Council cabinet member for public protection Colin Spence said he was keen for the fire service to work as closely as possible with the police – but a full merger was not on the horizon at present.
“This was a proposal in Sir Ken Knight’s report, but (police minister) Damian Green has made it clear that there is no chance of the necessary legislation coming through before the general election, and it would be problematic after then.
“Of course if Labour comes back into power it has always been more keen on a regional approach – as we saw with the fire control room fiasco.”
He added that there were only 12 fire and rescue services across the country that were wholly part of a county council, as in Suffolk. In other places – including Cambridgeshire and Essex – fire and rescue services are run by separate bodies combining county councils and unitary authorities.
Mr Spence also warned that any attempt to create a joint fire and police control room would face huge technical problems because the two services relied on different technology.
He pointed out that the regional fire centre programme eventually failed because of problems with information technology between fire authorities – and any attempt to combine police and fire IT could be even more problematic.