Perils of change

PUBLIC services face sweeping changes as they deal with the reality of major cuts in funding, forcing politicians and officials to think the unthinkable.

However, the history of restructuring public services is unhappy and there must be concern at proposals which could see fire and ambulance services merged.

Umpteen NHS re-organisations, the bungling of the Rural Payments Agency and the debacle over the railways illustrate how changes can lead to confusion, chaos and, ultimately, a worse service to the public. They almost always never deliver what they promise at the outset.

When it comes to the emergency services, chaos could prove disastrous.

Combining ambulance and fire services, with their different cultures and requirements, could seriously outweigh potential benefits from cost savings and joint working. It is welcome that the Government is reconsidering its intentions.

Tens of millions of pounds have been invested in improving ambulance services in Yorkshire over recent years, and it is possible that they have only now turned the corner and become comparable to other parts of the UK.

Yesterday's announcement of changes in official targets to better measure the quality of their work, rather than simply the speed of ambulance response times, offers new challenges, albeit ones that should be welcomed, but they should not be overshadowed by the risks of a hasty and ill-conceived merger.

Ministers say that it has never been so important to be open to change, new ideas and more innovative ways of working so funding can be prioritised for frontline services and staff.

Nevertheless, there are some changes which should be considered only after the public can have confidence in the plans. This is one such example. Efficiencies cannot be achieved at any cost.