Last week Home Secretary Theresa May set out the Government’s intention to allow PCCs to take over fire services where a local case is made with the aim of improving accountability.
Sussex PCC Katy Bourne has written to West Sussex County Council stating that she will commission a study and on the basis of the findings decide whether or not to make an application to the Home Office.
But Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, said: “I am firmly of the view that we have a uniquely excellent model – one that I am extremely proud of and one that I would not want to see put at risk.”
Speaking at last Friday’s full council meeting, she added: “This is a distraction we do not need. The officer time could be far better used working with our community.”
According to Mrs May there is a ‘real appetite for change’, with fire and rescue services succeeding ‘in spite of the framework it operates in, not because of it’, bound by old ways of working, and lacking diversity.
But West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is already integrated into the county council, with a focus on preventative and safeguarding work in the community.
Mrs Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) has invited Mrs May to West Sussex to ‘see the alternative option that meets her requirements and so much more’ and said they were ‘not open to losing our fire service’.
A spokesman for the office of the Sussex PCC said: “Under the forthcoming Police and Crime Bill there will be an increased duty to collaborate between emergency services and a key part is for PCCs to consider whether to take on responsibility for fire and rescue where a local case is made.
“Twice this week the Home Secretary has publicly encouraged fire and rescue services and authorities, communities and Police and Crime Commissioners to examine the case this and this is why we have written to interested parties seeking their co-operation in exploring all the options.
“With this in mind the Office of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will commission a study that will involve all relevant stakeholders and residents across Sussex.
On the basis of the findings of this the commissioner will decide whether or not to make an application to the Home Office.”
Last Friday’s meeting saw cross-party opposition to the proposals, which will be discussed again at July’s full council meeting.
James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the county council’s Lib Dem group, said that although there were opportunities for joint procurement and working as well as shared premises between the police and fire services, they were ‘totally opposed to merging the two functions in any shape or form’.
Sandra James (UKIP, Bourne), leader of the UKIP group, suggested there should be a referendum on the proposals, and called on Mrs Bourne to come to the authority’s July meeting to make her case in person.
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) said he and other members of his party ‘did not consider this to be the right path for Sussex’.
Morwen Millson (LDem, Horsham Riverside) pointed out that the fire and rescue service was completely embedded and worked closely with many of the county council’s other services, while Lionel Parsons (UKIP, Sompting and North Lancing) argued that proposals were ‘absolutely crazy’ so soon after a reorganisation of the service under the Future Fire and Rescue programme in West Sussex.
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