Thursday, 19 May 2016

Plans to merge fire and police services have dodged proper scrutiny

If PCCs are to take over the fire service, they need to prove these six things

A very good article about this worrying piece of legislation. Some of you may recall that I contacted the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner after inaccurate information appeared in her newsletter about the Sussex Fire Control. Not only did she admit and apologise for the inaccuracy, but she invited me to meet her to discuss the fire & rescue service. The meeting was very constructive and we had a frank exchange of our differing views on the idea of PCCs being responsible for the fire & rescue service.

I have to say that the very weak part of my case for the fire & rescue service remaining under County Council control was the issue of scrutiny and accountability. The PCC has monthly performance & accountability meetings with the Chief Constable that are webcast live, with recordings and minutes available on the website. Staff and the public can hear the questions and answers, which gives them the opportunity to challenge any weak questions or inadequate answers.

Now compare that with West Sussex County Council's scrutiny of the fire & rescue service. The Cabinet Member says that he meets regularly with the Chief Fire Officer and others in the management team. All well and good, but this is done in secret and no records of those meetings are publicly available. Now Mr Barling will protest that WSCC has the Environmental and Community Services Select Committee to scrutinise fire & rescue, but those committees are widely regarded as ineffective. Much like the Police & Crime Panels mentioned in the article.

Sadly, unless West Sussex County Council radically reform their scrutiny and accountability arrangements, I fear the Sussex PCC will have a very easy job to make a case for taking control of the fire & rescue service.