Controversial fire service takeover to be debated by House of Lords


On Wednesday 21 November there will be a debate in the House of Lords, where peers will be asked if they regret a decision by the Government to agree the takeover of North Yorkshire Fire Authority by the Police and Crime Commissioner, following other takeover examples nationally.

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In 2015, the Conservative Government launched a consultation on a ‘joined up’ approach to Police and Fire Services. Nationally, Fire Brigade Union general secretary Matt Wrack in January 2016 described the national proposal as a "half baked suggestion" and accused "one or two" PCCs supporting the plan of "empire building". He told the BBC: "There's very little evidence, there's no research been carried out, there's no support for it among firefighters and there's no support for it among police officers, there's no support among local communities and yet the government seems to be intent on forcing it through."

 

In North Yorkshire these proposals led to the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner spending more than £140,000 on consultants to prepare a business case on taking over the local fire service. The unpopular takeover is set to take place following Government agreement on 15 November 2018.

 

The motion of regret has been moved by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Kath Pinnock. The motion reads that “this House regrets that the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (Fire and Rescue Authority) Order 2018 has been brought forward despite the constituent councils, the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and North Yorkshire Fire Authority being opposed to the proposals; further regrets that no detailed assessments have been undertaken by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office as to the impact of the proposals; and expresses serious concern that the proposals could severely impact on the fire services’ capacity to serve residents across York and North Yorkshire”.

 

Baroness Kath Pinnock, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for communities, local government and fire services, stated:

 

“It is important for the House of Lords to vote on a motion of regret in order to place on record our dissent with Government policy and its impact not just on North Yorkshire, but equally, a variety of areas across the country, with unpopular and unwanted fire service take overs. Most importantly our dissent as Liberal Democrats is with the ongoing Conservative ideological reduction of local democracy and the ability of locally elected councils to influence the areas they are elected to represent.”

 

Baroness Angela Harris, a former Chair of North Yorkshire Police Authority, commented:

 

“Many are alarmed by the PCC’s intentions to assume responsibility for both the Police and Fire Service in North Yorkshire – the largest rural single county in England - leaving York and North Yorkshire without a Fire and Rescue Authority. Although collaboration between public services should be increased to the benefit of local communities, the PCC’s plans here in North Yorkshire are too high-risk. Most importantly, what contingencies would be put in place if all does not go according to plan. There may be other areas in the country which have under-performing fire services, where action on governance may be appropriate; however, North Yorkshire is not in this category. A takeover is this circumstance is ideologically driven, needless and risks seriously undermining an already effective fire service.”

 

Councillor Keith Aspden, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at City of York Council and Deputy Chair of the Local Government Association Fire Services Management Committee, added:

 

“Our communities and local authorities have already expressed serious concerns that the proposals could severely impact on the fire services’ capacity to serve residents across our local area. This includes all local political parties, North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, and the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. It is particularly disappointing to those of us in York and North Yorkshire as the Government’s own independent assessment, albeit only undertaken by one organisation against the advice from the Local Government Association, even stated in conclusion that there “is an absence of quantified benefits in relation to any reduced costs of inputs” and that there was “no overwhelming case for change and that most of the proposed changes could be achieved under the other three options.”


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