South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner could move to take control of the county’s fire service unless work on money-saving collaborations between the two emergency services can be done more quickly.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings has been investigating for months whether there is a more effective way to manage both services, which are currently under his control and that of South Yorkshire Fire Authority, made up largely of councillors from the county’s four district councils.
They already have a collaboration board including the chief officers, the PCC and chairman of the fire authority but its decision-making process is slowed because legally the full fire authority has to approve any decisions its chairman wants to make.
Now Dr Billings has released a report with the results of his findings, which effectively gives the fire authority an opportunity to find a way of speeding up the collaboration process between the two.
In practice that could mean the authority deciding its position in advance of collaboration board meetings, giving the chairman legal authority to act without having to go back to them for approval.
However, if that option is not pursued, Dr Billings will look at taking control of the fire service alongside police, called a ‘governance model’ in local authority jargon.
That process would not be straight forwards, however, because Dr Billings would need to consult with the Labour party before moving forwards with the idea, which is used elsewhere in the country, including North Yorkshire where PCC Julia Mulligan has recently taken a similar step.
It is believed that streamlined way of working would release immediate savings in costs of operating the fire authority and the support services it needs.
Dr Billings responded to the report at a meeting of his Public Accountability Board and said in a report: “I do consider that further and faster progress with collaboration could be achieved to improve outcomes for our communities.”
No response to his suggestions have yet been received from the fire authority and Dr Billings added that if they agreed to changed practices to speed up their decision-making on collaboration: “I would see no overriding reason to pursue a change to the governance arrangements at this time; but if no, I would favour making a business case for the governance model going forward.”
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been hit with a double financial problem in the last few months, with a working practice introduced to save £1.4m a year deemed unlawful and the prospect of an unexpected pensions bill of £2.4m a year also emerging.
Chief Office Jamie Courtney told a fire authority meeting on Monday the result would be a worse service for the public in future, with two new fire engines proposed for Sheffield and Doncaster already put on indefinite hold.
Collaboration between the two services, with the aim of saving money in areas such as the buildings they use and the vehicles they use, has been going on for some time.
The two services now have specialised staff working on the combined vehicle fleet, the two services' combined estates of premises and over the community safety work each organisation does.
The process of joint working and cost saving has not progressed as quickly as Dr Billings, who is already a member of the fire authority, would like, however.
He is keen to see the financial problems resolved in ways which do not affect front line services.