Yorkshire crime tsar doesn’t want to take over local fire brigade

Police and crime commissioners can take responsibility for their local fire brigades thanks to new powers introduced this year.

Police and crime commissioners can take responsibility for their local fire brigades thanks to new powers introduced this year.

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A Yorkshire police and crime commissioner says he does not want to take responsibility for his local fire brigade but has warned that he may be pressured by the Government into changing his position.

The Policing and Crime Bill, which became law earlier this year, allows for elected crime commissioners to take on a similar oversight and budget-setting role responsibility for fire services.

Dr Alan Billings

Dr Alan Billings

Unveiling the plans while Home Secretary, Theresa May said they would “bring greater accountability to the work of local fire and rescue services where it is taken up and provide stronger leadership in keeping the public safe”.

Some police commissioners, whose role involves holding their local police force to account and hiring or firing the chief constable, have already indicated they would like to take advantage of the new powers.

Last October, a report written by North Yorkshire crime commissioner Julia Mulligan suggested that the most senior police and fire officers in North Yorkshire could be brought together in one body overseeing both 999 services, to help save millions of pounds a year.

But Mark Burns-Williamson, her counterpart in West Yorkshire, said he did not intend to take over the governance of his local fire service.

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, whose local police force has been beset by controversy in recent years, has now suggested that he is not interested in overseeing the county’s fire brigade.

He wrote in his police and crime plan, which sets out his priorities for the next four years: “I told the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority I do not intend to add ‘Fire’ to my job description at the present time, though pressure from the Government may mean I have to revisit this in the future.

“I suggested in the first instance we form a new joint committee to allow a more co-ordinated approach to how we work more closely together.

“This body could look at buildings, procurement and workforce matters to get greater efficiencies and effectiveness in both organisations.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said in a statement: “It is not my intention to seek to take over the governance of the fire service from the current fire authority, as outlined in the Police and Crime Act 2016.

“I will, however, work in conjunction with them and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service Trust to deliver an improved service to the public of West Yorkshire through the efficiencies that can be delivered by collaborative working.

“A partnership board which includes representatives from Fire and Rescue, Police and Ambulance services across West Yorkshire has been put together to look for further potential opportunities of collaboration.

“There are clear expectations around collaboration outlined in the Policing and Crime Bill 2016, but we are looking at how we can work better together in West Yorkshire to deliver improved services to the people we all serve.

“These are challenging times with significant cuts to our budgets, but this approach offers the potential to achieve greater value for money as we work to deliver a more effective level of service to people across West Yorkshire.”

A spokesman for Humberside PCC Keith Hunter said: “The Policing and Crime Act encourages closer collaboration between police and fire services, including the option for PCCs to take responsibility for governance of the fire service where a local case exists to do so.

“Keith Hunter has no desire to take on this role but has been offered and accepted a seat on the Humberside Fire Authority board to encourage closer partnership working.”

In October, work started on a building in Maltby that will host both South Yorkshire Police an South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. It is expected to be finished by this spring.

The plans to accommodate fire service vehicles and staff into the police station on Byford Road were approved by Rotherham council in 2015.

In his police and crime plan, Dr Billings said 2016 had been a difficult time for South Yorkshire Police.

Chief Constable David Crompton was forced to resign over comments made about the Hillsborough inquests, and his successor Dawn Copley lasted only a day before standing down after it emerged she was under investigation for alleged misconduct.

He said that the Government’s grant to police forces was cut in the 2016 Autumn Statement, though PCCs are able to make up some of the difference by raising council tax.

He wrote: “There will be further pressures on the police budget in future years as central government grant is reduced further. In addition the government intends to review the way police forces are funded. Long-term financial planning will be very difficult.”

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