Abandon '˜shotgun wedding' fire service merger, PCC urges

FIRE chiefs in North Yorkshire are being urged to abandon plans for a 'shotgun wedding' with Humberside and move in with the police instead.

The call from police and crime commissioner (PCC) Julia Mulligan comes ahead of proposals to merge the two fire services being presented to both fire authorities in June.

North Yorkshire fire authority said no decisions had been taken and there would have to be public consultation before a final decision.

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However Mrs Mulligan called on North Yorkshire to “urgently” rethink its plans “before opting for a hasty merger with another service over 90 miles away.”

Mrs Mulligan said it made more sense for two local emergency services to look at the possibilities on their own doorstep. She said: “This would put us in a much better position to keep jobs here in North Yorkshire, rather than potentially exporting them to Humberside. Ultimately, every penny saved on sharing back office administration, governance, buildings and the like is money that could be spent on the front line, in local communities, which is what we should all be striving for.”

However former police officer Mike Pannett, who is standing against Mrs Mulligan for election as PCC as an Independent, urged caution after the debacle of the failed £470m Fire Control project. The project aimed to reduce the number of control rooms from 46 to nine, but eventually had to be scrapped. Mr Pannett said he had no wish to take on oversight of the fire service, adding: “Many of the poorly thought out issues around regionalisation and mergers in the Fire Control project are very relevant to today’s proposals around police and fire services. We risk throwing good money after bad all over again - leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill.”

And Labour candidate Steve Howley, who is also North Yorkshire FBU brigade secretary, accused Ms Mulligan of attempting to “grow her empire.”

He said if successful he would “guarantee frontline police and fire retain separate identities” but would “look to areas where we can collaborate to generate savings to put back into the frontline.”

Chairman of North Yorkshire fire authority Coun John Fort said the authority would need to consider the benefits of any merger against other options “including a merger with North Yorkshire Police, should the PCC wish to submit a business case subject to the draft legislation currently before parliament coming into force later this year and allowing such a merger.” He said regardless of the outcome, collaboration with the police would continue.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service has already saved £9m, but has to save another £2.1m by 2020. Next week fire authority members will be discussing what measures to take to save £1.2m as part of its operational efficiency programme.

At the beginning of the month Dorset and Wiltshire became the latest fire services to merge. Humberside FBU brigade chairman Rob Vaux said: “If a merger is a way of saving money it needs to be saved in a way that isn’t going to affect frontline services or firefighters.”

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Blacksell said if members were minded to support a merger “there would be full public and partner consultation.”

A merger would not stop them from sharing premises, staff and volunteers with police, he added.