Hundreds sign petition over future of Norfolk’s fire service

PHOTO: Denise Bradley.

PHOTO: Denise Bradley. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

More than 400 people have signed a petition urging police and crime commissioner Lorne Green not to consider taking over Norfolk's fire service.

Mr Green will, at the end of this month, consider a draft business case over what the future could hold for the service, which currently comes under the auspices of Norfolk County Council.

Conservative police and crime commissioner Mr Green will use the findings to decide if he believes there is a case for change.

If he is convinced there is, public consultation will be launched as a first step on the way to him potentially taking over the running of the fire service.

An update will be presented at the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel tomorrow, but Norfolk Fire Brigades Union has launched an online petition, opposing any takeover,

They list 10 reasons why they do not want the service to be taken over. Their reasons include that there has been cross-party opposition at County Hall, that it would diminish local democracy and accountability and that it is already one of the cheapest fire services in the country.

The county council's communities committee had previously rejected an independent report's conclusion that the 'preferred option' would be to transfer the fire service from the county council into the governance of the police and crime commissioner.

They called on Mr Green not to pursue a full business case and the council's late leader Cliff Jordan had said there was 'no compelling case' to change the governance.

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But, with the county's MPs writing a letter backing further exploration, Mr Green did task Grant Thornton with the study.

Mr Green, who has always said he is 'neutral' and 'there is no attempt at a power grab' had said he felt 'duty bound' to commission the initial report after it became an option under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

He said of the petition: 'I was surprised to learn I have a plan to takeover Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service; this was certainly news to me. For the avoidance of any doubt I have no such plan.

'What I have done is asked for full exploration of whether or not there is a better way of governing Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, one which could materially benefit both the service and the people of Norfolk.

'Again, let's be clear, that work is still under way, there is no business case yet and therefore no evidence either way for me to consider. To draw firm conclusions at this stage without even seeing the results seems premature at best.

'I've said all along I would be guided by the evidence. As a servant of the public, I believe it is incumbent on me to explore fully any change that could offer the possibility of keeping the people of Norfolk even safer, and enable our fire and rescue officers to provide the best service for the Norfolk taxpayers' pound.

'If, once all the assessments have been carried out, I am persuaded by the evidence that there is a case for change, the next step, crucially, will be to give the people of Norfolk a direct say based on the facts. That sounds pretty democratic to me.'

The Liberal Democrat group at County Hall today reiterated that they want the fire service to remain in the control of the county council.

Sarah Butikofer, Liberal Democrat group spokesperson, said: 'The commissioner's own consultants admitted in their report, that there are limited opportunities to save public money by the PCC assuming control of the service.

'It specifically states 'that a lack of local consensus would make any takeover by the PCC carry a much higher level of risk with implications for public safety and value for money'.

'This discussion needs to be based on accurate and definitive evidence. The safety of the people of Norfolk and the future of our fire service are just too important for this decision to be based on anything else.

'The previous council leader was resolute on opposing a proposed PCC takeover based on the current evidence at his disposal, and we now call on the new Tory leader to make the same public commitment.'