The men and women of our emergency services daily face some of the most challenging and dangerous circumstances and fire fighters are no different as we saw when they responded to the Shoreham air disaster.
Former Home Secretary Theresa May praised both the response to Shoreham and the widespread flooding over Christmas last year, describing this as ‘public services at its very best’, singling out how well fire and rescue and the police worked together. However, she was also very clear that Blue Light collaboration could, and should, be improved.
In a speech to Think Tank Reform two months ago, Mrs May set out her vision for closer blue light collaboration and improvements to the fire service. She said she saw “a service that has succeeded in spite of the framework it operates in, not because of it... a service that requires further reform to improve accountability, bring independent scrutiny and drive transparency.”
Subsequently, the Home Secretary wrote to all PCCs stating that the Government believed “...that closer working and, where the case is made locally, shared governance of fire services and police, can bring better outcomes for local people.”
The Police & Crime Bill provides the authority to look further than shared governance, and places a duty on PCCs to consider whether to take on responsibility for fire and rescue where a business case can be made in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness or public safety.
As Sussex PCC, it is my duty to explore this option so I have written to East Sussex Fire & Rescue Authority, West Sussex County Council and the respective Fire Services to seek their cooperation.
Under national procurement guidelines, I have put out a tender for the work of developing a business case and, to support this process and ensure the widest possible engagement, my office has established a partnership group.
This invites colleagues from East and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services, West Sussex County Council, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Authority and Sussex Police to inform the work and bring their expertise into the evaluation.
We expect to award the tender for the development of a business case by the end of August. If all goes to plan, work will begin in September and the study will be completed in December. Once we have all the information and the analysis is complete, I will then consult with the people of Sussex and get their views.
My priorities are not only to conduct an open and honest analysis with no pre-determined view, but also to minimise uncertainty for Firefighters and staff so I intend to work closely with staff associations and unions as well.
As blue light challenges change, it would be complacent and negligent to say ‘We’ve always worked in this way and so we always should”. Fire and rescue is such an important service for all of us that how it’s managed should face robust examination. The Government’s legislation provides us with an opportunity to do just that in a thorough and transparent way.
I look forward to working with everyone involved and ensuring that Sussex residents are properly consulted and provided with clear information and options. This review process does not start with any critical preconceptions and the process should in no way preclude other collaboration models.
The most important thing for everyone to focus on must be the safety of the millions of people who live and work in or visit Sussex.
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