Government move to bring both services under police and crime commissioners raises prospect of shared control rooms and back offices
Police and fire and rescue services could begin to share IT systems for control and back office functions, following the Government's announcement of its plan to make police and crime commissioners (PCCs) responsible for both services.
Mike Penning, the minister for policing, crime, criminal justice and victims, said today that there are plans to legislate as part of the effort to get police, fire and ambulance services working more closely together.
Its main feature is to provide a process to determine whether a PCC should take on the governance of the local fire and rescue, as set out in a consultation paper published last year. It would not force the move onto any region, and would require a firm business case, but it would provide the momentum for a change.
The new paper on the legislation and the minister's announcement also include direct references to sharing IT capabilities.
Benefits of sharing
The document says there could be significant benefits in the emergency services sharing IT, procurement and back office systems, as well as premises. This has already prompted speculation that they could share control rooms for handling the response to emergencies.
Penning said: “This is about smarter working. It simply doesn’t make sense for emergency services to have different premises, different back offices and different IT systems when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries.
“The Government has already invested over £80 million in collaboration projects and local areas have shown the benefits of joint working between the emergency services ̶ but there is more to be done and this legislation will enable that.”
Other aspects of the proposed legislation include enabling PCCs to create a single employer for police and fire personnel, giving them representation and voting rights on their local fire authority, and abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to give the mayor direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service.
The plan has already run into opposition. The Police Federation of England and Wales described the move as “heavy handed and unnecessary”.
Its chair, Steve White, said it could be a good move for police and fire services to share facilities, but that: “Police and fire services each have their own, professional specialisms – and we must not merge the services or change things purely as a cost-cutting exercise.”
He also expressed concerns that the new law would only apply to England.
“Different governance structures, roles and responsibilities across England could potentially result in competing models of policing, fire and rescue throughout England and Wales,” he said.
“For example, there are 39 police forces in England, but over 50 fire and rescue services in the UK; so the current areas covered by services differ and for that reason a piecemeal approach will not work. This alone would mean restructuring is already required if certain structures are merged.”