Public should have say on fire service takeover, says police commissioner
- Credit: Archant
Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green has said a business case into the future of the county's fire service has convinced him the public should be asked whether they think he should take it over.
He said an independent draft business case had shown £10m could be saved in 10 years if the service was under his control, with more efficient services and better joint working with police.
The fire service is currently run by Norfolk County Council, but the Conservative government paved the way last year for police and crime commissioners to take over control.
Conservative commissioner Mr Green had commissioned an independent report into future governance, which concluded the 'preferred option' would be to transfer the fire service from the county council to Mr Green's control.
But the county council's communities committee rejected that conclusion and called on Mr Green not to pursue a full business case.
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The council's late leader Cliff Jordan had said there was 'no compelling case' to change governance. But the county's MPs wrote a letter backing further exploration, so Mr Green did task Grant Thornton with putting together a full business case.
Mr Green, who had always said he was '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.
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And, having looked at the business case, he has decided the public should be asked for views on what the future should hold for the fire service.
He ruled out a merger, but said: 'People say that duplication of time, effort and resources makes no sense at all - and I agree.
'Some say if it ain't broke, don't fix it, to which my reply is that holding on to something that is good for now, may be the reason you don't have something better.
'There are some great examples of joint working between Norfolk Constabulary and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service already under way, but if we are honest, successes have too often been slow, patchy and complicated.'
But the Norfolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union is opposing change. More than 870 people have signed their online petition, in which 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 Norfolk Fire and Rescue is already one of the cheapest fire services in the country.
And Margaret Dewsbury, chair of the communities committee at Norfolk County Council, said: 'At this stage we are unconvinced about the Police and Crime Commissioner's claim that this proposed change of governance will deliver £10m of savings over the indicated 10 year period.
'There is no clear evidence that any savings would be easier to achieve through a change in governance as opposed to continuing our very successful track record of collaboration and joint working.
'We are also concerned that the majority of the suggested £10m savings over 10 years would be delivered through buildings rationalisation – therefore putting the future of our fire stations at risk across a county the size of Norfolk.'
But Mr Green said, while fire and police stations could be rationalised on single sites, none would disappear completely and no jobs would be lost.
People can have their say during the eight week consultation at www.norfolk-pc.gov.uk. People can also call 01953 424455, email to TellLorne@norfolk.pnn.police.uk or letter addressed to PCC Lorne Green, OPCCN, Building 8, Jubilee House, Falconers Chase, Wymondham, Norfolk NR18 0WW.