THE Fire Brigades Union in Northamptonshire is extremely concerned at reports suggesting a possible merger of the fire and rescue service and the police, which firefighters believe will damage the service to the public.
Firefighters were alarmed to find out from media reports last week that high-level talks have already taken place between managers without the knowledge of the workforce.
Newly-elected police and crime commissioner, Tory Adam Simmonds, a former Northampshire County Council senior officer, announced without warning that he hoped to push through a merger of the county’s police and fire services.
Steve Mason, FBU brigade secretary of Northamptonshire said: ‘We strongly believe that each of the emergency services are completely unique in the way that they need to work, the incidents they have to deal with and the management structure that is required to run an effective service.
‘We are extremely proud that when a member of the public calls a fire engine, they get one.
‘A merger would be driven by cuts and be bad news for the public.
‘It would affect how quickly firefighters get to an emergency and whether we have the personnel and resources to tackle it.
‘The public want professionally trained firefighters when they call us.
‘It is obvious that secret talks have been going on for some time.
‘It is a major concern that the county fire officer has seen fit not to consult with the FBU.
‘We were informed of the press release and the email to staff an hour before it was released. This is a totally unacceptable situation.’
The FBU has been informed that three senior managers including the chief fire officer are relocating their offices to police headquarters at Wooten Hall.
The FBU believes this decision puts a question mark over the future of the fire service HQ.
They have already decided to move fire control to Daventry.
Mason said: ‘Even the government’s own Fire Futures review two years ago ruled out the single governance model for emergency services.
‘A forced merger, carried out with no consultation, is not in the best interests of the communities we serve or the firefighters we represent.
‘We will be seeking urgent talks with the county fire officer and the county council portfolio holder for the fire service to discuss the future of Northants fire and rescue service.
‘We will also be seeking meetings with the representative bodies of the other emergency services to consider the way forward.’
Revealing he plans to push through a merger of the county’s police and fire services, Northamptonshire police commissioner Simmonds said last week that a change in legislation could allow him to take over the running of the county’s fire service.
Currently, legislation prevents a complete merger of blue light services.
However, Simmonds said the government was looking at the possibility of making changes to the law, which could result in one organisation, or one person, running all the services.
Asked whether he envisaged a time where he ruled over police, fire and potentially even ambulance operations, he told reporters: ‘I think the government’s ambition is just that.
‘Whether we will be like that in Northamptonshire, I don’t know, but unless we start the conversation about why we are we doing things this way, nothing will change.’
Simmonds confirmed that his plans followed 12-weeks of discussions with council bosses and fire chiefs.
Fellow Tory, Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member for fire, Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage said he backed the plans completely and also shared a vision of a single emergency service, potentially incorporating the ambulance service as well.
De Savage said the council was considering the fire service and police sharing a combined headquarters in Northampton town centre.
Simmonds and de Savage were commenting on a Northamptonshire County Council announcement that the two blue light services were to work more closely together, citing possible shared offices, a shared control room and even a shared headquarters.
The County Council announcement stopped short of saying the two services were to combine into one.
However, Simmonds confirmed his hopes of moving from ‘operational integration’ towards a full ‘merger’, which is supported by senior politicians inside County Hall.
County council cabinet member for fire and public protection Councillor de Savage said: ‘Closer working between Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Northamptonshire Police makes very good sense – not just for both organisations, but for the people of Northamptonshire too.
‘In fact, in our recent consultation, 97 per cent of respondents backed the idea of the fire and rescue service working more closely with other local blue light organisations.
‘The financial challenges we are all facing in the public sector mean that local services need to find new ways to work smarter and improve our capacity so that we can continue to improve the services we provide and make Northamptonshire a safer place for everyone.’
Simmonds said: ‘The police and fire services both work tirelessly to protect people and property. They already work together well and this move will enable closer working to be developed.’
A spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue claimed a full merger was not yet on the cards.
He said: ‘There are wide ranging discussions taking place with Northamptonshire Police to explore opportunities of how we could work more closely together in the future in order to meet the needs of our communities.
‘It is too early to say how this will manifest itself and there are no concrete plans or proposals on the table.
‘There are many opportunities open to us in the future through this initiative and we are keen to explore these in partnership.’
• New plans from fire minister Brandon Lewis to privatise the whole of Britain’s fire and rescue service will cost lives, says Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack.
Lewis has written to the Regulatory Reform Committee at Westminster seeking views on new laws to ‘enable fire and rescue authorities in England to contract out their full range of services to a suitable provider’.
But Wrack said: ‘Just privatising parts of the service has already brought near-disaster.
‘AssetCo, which was given the contract to maintain London’s and Lincolnshire’s fleets of fire engines, failed to do so properly and, when the company collapsed, could have lost them altogether to AssetCo’s creditors.
‘While profiting from our public service they were unable to meet their commitments to maintain and renew fire engines and equipment. London and Lincolnshire firefighters reported all kinds of problems.
‘These proposals are grotesque and if they come to fruition will sacrifice lives on the altar of profit.
‘This is the same disastrous model that has been used in the health service, the rail industry and local government to slash services while providing bountiful profits for private companies.’
The fire minister’s letter claims local support for mutualisation in Cleveland and that contracting out provides more choice.
But Wrack said: ‘This is not an employee-led local initiative. It’s simply a cost-cutting measure.
‘Firefighters in Cleveland and elsewhere have told the FBU they do not want privatisation, they do not want mutualisation and they do not want contracting out.
‘They want to provide a first class service to the public and have professional pay and conditions of service.
‘There is no public demand for privatising the fire and rescue service. There is no support among firefighters for these measures. The government should stop now before they do untold damage.’