Fire service to retain its existing command for now
SURREY County Council will continue to be in charge of the county’s fire and rescue service “for the time being”, the police commissioner has confirmed.
But Mr Munro called on Surrey CC to ensure fire and rescue works more closely with neighbouring fire services and 999 colleagues.
He said he expects to see “tangible” progress and, if there is no demonstrable evidence SFRS has better collaboration with colleagues in Sussex and elsewhere within six months, he could rethink his decision.
It comes after firefighters declared a motion of no confidence in the county fire authority in July, saying proposed budget cuts would put the public and firefighters at risk.
The motion, passed by members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), warned the number of firefighters working in Surrey will plummet further if £10m is cut from the budget as approved by the council.
In 2010, SFRS employed 378 firefighters. But this number has since fallen to 252 and the FBU says by 2022 there will be just 117 whole-time firefighters responding to emergencies across the county.
This would represent a 69 per cent drop in firefighter posts over 12 years and, of all England’s fire and rescue services, Surrey now has the lowest number of staff per head of population.
The government’s new Policing and Crime Act 2017 places a duty on emergency services to collaborate and makes provision for PCCs to take on the governance role for fire and rescue authorities where there is a business case to do so.
In Sussex, where PCC Katy Bourne also decided to maintain the status quo, the proposals were opposed by figures across the political spectrum, with many describing the idea as a “distraction”.
Earlier this year, Mr Munro announced his office would be spearheading a working group to look at how Surrey Police can become more closely linked with colleagues in the emergency services and whether a change of governance would benefit residents.
The possible options considered were:–
• County council remaining the fire and rescue authority;
• The PCC becoming a member of the fire and rescue authority;
• The PCC taking over as the fire and rescue authority but keeping two separate chief officers for police and fire; or
• Surrey PCC taking over and appointing one chief officer in charge of both police and fire services.
After a detailed analysis the PCC concluded allowing time for the county to pursue better fire collaboration would benefit residents more than a change of governance.
Relevant agencies formed the working group and have had regular planning meetings since January.
In July, the PCC’s office appointed KPMG, a consultancy agency with expertise in emergency services transformation and collaboration, to help develop a detailed analysis of the four options to assist in the decision making process.
Mr Munro said: “I have not taken this decision lightly and I am clear retaining the existing governance arrangements does not mean we simply accept the status quo. I expect to see real and tangible activity over the next six months, including a declaration of intent between the three chief fire officers across Surrey and East and West Sussex to work more closely in collaboration, and a detailed plan on how both efficiencies and operational benefits can be drawn out.
“There also has to be a more focused and ambitious effort to enhance blue-light collaborative activity in Surrey.”
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