Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why handing control of the Fire and Rescue Service to the Police Commissioner would be bad for Cornwall

It seems that free-spending Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg is keen to expand his empire. He has welcomed a proposal by the Home Secretary to explore the idea of police commissioners taking over the running of fire and ambulance services. Chancellor George Osborne also gave a hint of such a move in his spending review announcement yesterday.

I don’t know that much about the ambulance services, but Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is a hugely specialised team which has developed brilliantly under Cornwall Council. It has new leadership and was taken off a list of those services seen to be failing after a lot of hard work by the authority and staff. The idea of centralising it to an Exeter HQ (and merging with Devon) would mean the loss of local accountability and, I fear, a less responsive service.

Whilst most of local government has made significant savings in administration in recent years, Mr Hogg has overseen further bloating of his own administration team. He has, rightly, made the point that local police services will be affected by the latest round of cuts. But his arguments are holed below the waterline given his own profligacy. I can't help but wonder whether taking over fire or ambulance services would be simply an excuse for another round of consultants and more 'chums on seats'.

At the moment, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is run by the council and accountable to the public through local elected members. The debate about local fire stations and service levels is one which the public can see and take part in. My fear is that, if the Police Commissioner’s empire is allowed to expand, we will lose that accountability and decisions will be taken in a private office in Exeter.

Led by my colleague Sue James, a cross party group of Cornwall councillors has proposed a motion for the next council meeting opposing the centralisation of fire services.

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