POLICE CHIEF IN FIRE BID
‘TAKEOVER’ MOVE FOR SERVICE:
GLOUCESTERSHIRE’S police chief Martin Surl has relaunched a bid that, if successful, would see the responsibility of running the county’s fire service transferred to him.
The Police and Crime Commissioner tried to take over the fire service – run under Gloucestershire County Council’s umbrella – last year but was met with opposition by councillors who argued it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
A report by consultancy firm Ameo, commissioned by the county council to assess the effectiveness of a merger, found it would cost taxpayers £2.5 million over three years.
Mr Surl said he wants to look at the governance of the Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) again in light of the scandal that led to the resignation of ex-chief fire officer Stewart Edgar over the sale of a service-owned vehicle.
But he denied it was a “takeover bid”. Councillors have again rejected Mr Surl’s efforts to alter the current regime. In a council meeting this week, Councillor Jeremy Hilton urged Mr Surl to “stick to his day job”.
Mr Surl’s plan was triggered in 2016 when the Government said it wanted to introduce legislation to allow PCCs to take over responsibility of fire services. But the county council said at the time that the takeover would come at a cost to the taxpayer.
Mr Surl said an internal audit investigation into the fire service recommended a review into its structure following “serious failures of governance and leadership”.
Reacting to the news, cabinet member for fire Dave Norman said: “Martin Surl’s own report shows this will save no money, but the changeover will cost millions.
“Gloucestershire people will find it hard to understand why he is taking more money away from front-line policing to spend on this. I want better cooperation with all three emergency services – which this takeover bid really undermines.”
Mr Hilton added: “There is absolutely no need to reopen a discussion about transferring the governance of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service away from the county council.
“It would be much better for the county council to continue to work in partnership with the police to further develop collaborative projects.”
There are currently four PFCCs responsible for governance of their local fire services in Essex, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Cambridgeshire and others will shortly be doing the same.
Mr Surl said: “This is not a takeover bid and never has been. But recent events have revealed serious failures of governance and leadership at the top of GFRS and the firefighters deserve better. When you consider the benefits we’ve seen in terms of openness, accountability and transparency in respect of the police service, if that can be applied to the fire service then it is an opportunity we should explore.
“After due consideration, and following representations from a number of quarters including the Home Office, staff from GFRS and the public, I have decided to re-examine governance of Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service.
“I have the greatest respect for firefighters who already play a significant role in my Police and Crime Plan in road safety and my aim is to get the best result for Gloucestershire”.
People will be asked “is Gloucestershire County Council the right body to oversee the fire service?” in a public consultation by the PCC.
Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl