North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner insists there is “resounding” public support for her plans to take over the county’s fire service, despite the idea being rejected by numerous authorities.
A survey by Julia Mulligan, who proposes to take responsibility for the county’s fire service as well as its police force, has found that 55 per cent of respondents were in favour of the move.
Such a step would improve collaboration, she said, as well as save money. But it was branded “totally needless” and “high risk” by the area’s police and crime panel which earlier this month joined North Yorkshire’s and York’s councils in rejecting the plan.
Now, as she prepares to take the case to the Home Office, she argues the findings from the survey demonstrate the need for change.
“This is all about improving the service to the public and ensuring we continue to properly protect people into the future,” Mrs Mulligan said.
“What’s more, with only 30 per cent of the total preferring to retain the fire authority, it is clear that there is great appetite for change to improve the way the fire and police services work together.
“People have consistently told me that this makes a lot of common sense. For example, it’s nonsense that there are two headquarters in the same town when we could be sharing.”
Mrs Mulligan’s proposals suggest £6.6m could be saved over 10 years if her office replaced the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, the body responsible for holding the fire service to account.
The Fire Brigades Union revealed earlier this month that it was backing the plans, after assurances there would be investment in front-line services.
But Mrs Mulligan failed to win overall support in Harrogate despite meeting with cabinet members on Wednesday.
And councillors in Richmondshire voted unanimously against the plans earlier this month, with the area’s police and crime panel, which holds Mrs Mulligan to account, recommending she should instead be given a seat on the fire authority and become its 17th member.
“Such a drastic change in governance of the fire service is totally needless in North Yorkshire,” panel vice-chairman Peter Wilkinson said as the decision was made.
“She is asking the public – and we as partners – to agree to a proposal which is very high risk, lacking in any detailed assessment of what it would achieve and which, critically, cannot be reversed if things go wrong.”
The panel’s proposals would also see Mrs Mulligan sit on a committee to focus on closer collaboration between police and fire services.
North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) leader Carl Les described this as a “stepped approach”, which would allow for adaptations in the future.
More than 2,500 people took part in the crime commissioner’s survey, with results split into members of the public or staff. It found that 56 per cent of the public and 41 per cent of staff were in favour of the proposals.
Mrs Mulligan said she would now review the responses in detail as she finalised a businesses case for submission to the Home Office in a fortnight’s time.
With the proposals rejected by both NYCC and York Council, the business case must be subject to an independent assessment before a final decision is made.
Mrs Mulligan said it was “disappointing” the plans hadn’t been supported.
“This means additional expense to the public and a prolonged process, when we could be getting on with the job, putting the public first,” she said.
“I’d like to thank the workforce and the public for their support and in the meantime, will continue to challenge the status quo.”