Police and crime commissioner announces he will not seek takeover of Norfolk’s fire service - for now

Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green. Pic: Sonya Duncan.

Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green. Pic: Sonya Duncan. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2017

Norfolk's police and crime commissioner has decided not to put forward a case for him to take on control of the county's fire service - for now.

Conservative commissioner Lorne Green found himself at loggerheads with Tory-run Norfolk County Council over the future of the fire service, which County Hall currently runs.

He has spent almost £100,000 on a process to explore whether he should take over the fire service.

But he announced today he would not be submitting a final business case to the government - despite an eight-week consultation in which 59pc of more than 7,700 people who responded supported a switch.

With the county council set against the move, the 'political will' which consultants had said would be needed is not there, while other takeover attempts in other parts of the country have led to legal challenges.

So Mr Green has decided to pause the process, although he stressed it would remain under review.

He said: 'After careful consideration and after weighing up all the evidence, I have decided that it is not yet the right time to submit a case to the Secretary of State.

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'I will keep the situation under close review on the clear understanding that, should circumstances change, a case can be submitted. The lights are amber.'

The government had paved the way for police and crime commissioners to take over the management of fire services through the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

Mr Green, who had said he was 'duty-bound' to explore the possibility, commissioned an options appraisal over the future of the service, in which Grant Thornton, authors of the report, concluded the 'preferred option' would be to transfer the fire service from the county council into the PCC's governance.

Mr Green said a subsequent business case had convinced him of the merits which would come from him taking over, which triggered the start of public consultation over the service's future.

He had said the independent draft business case showed £10m could be saved in 10 years if the service was under his control, with more efficient services and better joint working with police.

He had said, while fire and police stations could be rationalised on single sites, none would disappear completely and no jobs would be lost.

But the county council had responded with its own case, in which they countered some of Mr Green's claims, while the Norfolk branch of the National Fire Brigades Union started a petition against any takeover.

Mr Green said despite his decision not to take his A Case For Change forward at this time, it had been worth it and would trigger changes.

He said: 'To say 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it' does a great disservice to those for whom we have a duty always to strive for better.

'That has been the guiding principle in our exploration of options for the governance of the fire and rescue service in our county going forward. Could we do better for our men, women and children? Could we enhance their public safety and provide more effective and more cost efficient services? We are servants of the public – their interests must come first, for the most important political office is that of citizen.

'During the consultation period, I travelled the length and breadth of Norfolk, speaking to thousands of people, offering them the opportunity to find out more, ask questions and have their say. I held more than 40 public events. I went to lunch clubs, supermarkets and council meetings; I stood on sea fronts, market places and high streets.

'It was heartening to see the level of interest of Norfolk people and their willingness to engage in the debate about the future of two key public services.

It was clear to me that what people want at the end of the day are good public services that deliver the best possible service and excellent value for money.

The consultation results show that Norfolk people believe that this would best be achieved with a change of governance for their fire and rescue service.'

But he said now was not the right time to push the change in governance bid forward.

He said: 'Norfolk County Council's continued opposition means it has not been possible to achieve local consensus. Given the nature of the change, the county council's co-operation and support has a significant impact on the likelihood that the change could be delivered successfully and in line with the business case.

'I also want to be clear that the status quo has gone; this whole process I have led has had the powerful effect of being a compelling catalyst for change.

'As a direct result of this work, I am pleased to announce that a reinvigorated Emergency Services Collaboration Board met for the first time on Monday.

'Of enormous significance, it agreed that A Case for Change should be the blueprint for the future, whoever oversees our public services. This is a welcome move and no doubt something that will also be of interest to Her Majesty's inspectors during Norfolk Fire and Rescue's upcoming inspection.

'However, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. As PCC I will be monitoring progress around collaboration closely consistent with A Case for Change. To allow me full oversight and scrutiny, I will also request a seat on the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Authority.

'I will monitor progress closely and revisit where we are early in the New Year, at which time we may also have the benefit of results from the national inspection of the Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service, and know where matters stand with regards to the outstanding judicial reviews in other counties.'

Mr Green recently announced he would not be seeking re-election to the commissioner role when his stint comes to an end in 2020.

Margaret Dewsbury, chairman of Norfolk County Council's communities committee, said: 'We already have a well-established collaborative relationship with Norfolk police. Working together we have achieved a lot and we are committed to making sure this continues.

'We are already working with Norfolk police to drive forward further opportunities for new and innovative ways to keep our residents safe and to make sure Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service continues to be as effective and efficient as possible.'