Ministers are to consult on the mandatory transfer of the governance of fire and rescue services to police and crime commissioners, following a review.
The review was first announced in July 2020, as a part of the Government’s manifesto commitment to strengthening the accountability of the 41 police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, and expanding their role.
Part one of the review looked at strengthening accountability and scrutiny mechanisms, identifying and sharing best practice, and the relationship between PCCs and police chief constables. Part two will commence after the May elections.
Last month, the Government announced its findings from part one of the review, stating it would also consult on mandatory transfers of fire governance to PCCs, with a Fire Reform White Paper due out later this year.
Four areas already have police, fire and crime commissioners in place, while the rest are governed by a mix of fire and rescue authorities, county councils, or within a mayoral model.
The LGA and many fire and rescue authorities and councils provided feedback on the questions posed by the review. We are disappointed that the Government is looking to mandate transfers of fire governance to PCCs and we will ensure that the LGA feeds into the White Paper consultation on this.
The LGA believes local areas are best placed to make decisions on how they are governed, and we would not want to see mandatory transfers of governance where they are not locally supported.
There is already legislation in place to allow PCCs to take on fire governance where there is a local case that it is in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety.
The LGA believes there is no pressing need to change this position. Councillors who sit on English fire and rescue authorities do a tremendous job, and the fire and rescue service is one of the best and most trusted public services that we have – and one we should cherish.
The Government is also looking to introduce operational independence for chief fire officers. This recommendation is supported by Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue services, in his second ‘State of Fire and Rescue’ report published last month.
We do not believe that new legislation is needed to introduce operational independence for chief fire officers. Officers and fire authority members both play complementary and distinct roles within the fire and rescue service.
As representatives of their communities, fire and rescue authorities set the policy agenda for the service and provide democratic accountability, ensuring that the views of the community are heard in decisions affecting the delivery of the fire and rescue service.
Chief fire officers provide professional advice and guidance on issues such as risk, and manage the day-to-day running of the service.
By working together, chief fire officers and their elected members can achieve better outcomes for their communities on issues such as potential closures of fire stations.
We look forward to working with the Government on its fire reform agenda and will proactively engage with the opportunity to feed into the White Paper consultation on transferring governance to PCCs.