Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority has welcomed Home Office plans to delay a transfer of governance to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) until at least May 2021.
The PCC has been asked to wait until after the PCC elections, the Home Office has said it wants to: “Take stock of any significant developments that may affect the business case”.
In a letter to the PCC, John Campion, the Minister of State for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse MP, says that as more than two years have passed since the initial decision was approved in March 2018, a review of the business case is required to support the transfer going forward.
Councillor Eric Carter, Chair of Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority, is in agreement with the decision to delay the take over and said: “Both Shropshire and Hereford and Worcester Fire Authorities are subject to this takeover bid and we are delighted the Government has been able to see some common sense.
“In our view, the original business case had some serious flaws and the passing of time has only made these worse. We are pleased that a change in governance cannot now take place before the PCC elections next May and it is our expectation that a full review of the business case will give the public and Government a chance to see there is no real case for the PCC to take over.
“As Authorities we believe the progress made over the last three years demonstrates our ability and determination to provide the people of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire with a first-class fire and rescue service.
“We have become stronger through our Alliance – building capacity and resilience by working together as two fire services and focusing on the things that are important to the public and firefighter safety.
“At the same time, we have continued to collaborate with the Police in new areas such as property sharing, missing persons searches and helping gain entry into premises when people are in danger. We are not anticollaboration; we just want to focus on improving our service to the public in the best possible way.
“All we have seen from Mr Campion’s plans are ideas to merge vital fire service functions with the police “back room” to save money rather than to improve performance. Smashing organisations together without a thought for what makes them so good.
“We have consulted with the Local Authorities and communities, and it is clear that the only way for the public to have full trust and confidence in the process is for it to be treated as a fresh business case; with all that entails.
“Any proposal needs full stakeholder consultation and an independent, expert review prior to the Home Secretary making his decision. This is the only way the public can see these plans for what they are and for a business case to be properly and transparently judged on its merits.
“We would be disappointed if the impact of COVID-19 wasn’t recognised and outcomes considered before a decision is made, particularly as during the pandemic relationships with health and local authority partners has proven the effectiveness of management at a local level to the benefit of the Service and to the communities it serves.
“We remain strongly committed to working with the PCC on plans for the new Telford Central Fire Station where cost efficiencies can be made working collaboratively with the Police along with advancements to joint training, improving operational effectiveness and longer term management training.
Councillor Eric Carter added: "For us the fight goes on. We do not need fixing because we aren't broken. If the fire service were failing, we wouldn’t argue about a takeover, but we are in a situation where that is far from the truth.
“Mr Campion has said that “communities and the emergency services are the biggest losers” by not pressing ahead with his plans but we have always acted within the best interests of the public. It has been with their backing and that of fire service employees across both organisations that the judicial review was carried out.
“We will continue to champion the view from most members of the public, principal local authorities and all the town and parish councils to continue the fight against a unnecessary takeover and allow us to focus on the real job of providing the best for our local communities.”