The police and crime commissioner still believes there is a case for bringing the region’s fire brigades under his office’s control, despite the government suspending the process until next summer.
West Mercia Police, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service and Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service are currently governed and funded separately, although the two brigades have an alliance to share some resources. In 2017, Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion submitted a business case to then Home Secretary Amber Rudd arguing that £4 million of annual savings could be made through single governance.
Ms Rudd approved this, but a judicial review by the fire authorities questioned her decision-making process and delayed implementation. Then, in June this year, Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse MP wrote to Mr Campion saying the Covid-19 pandemic and legislative hurdles made it impossible to make the transfer before next May’s elections.
The Conservative PCC told the force area’s Police and Crime Panel he “still believes the essence of what I pitched for three years ago” applies, but said, if re-elected, he would look at the issue afresh in light of proposed new laws and the findings of a Home Office review.
“This isn’t about me,” he said.
“I am agnostic who governs fire services. What I want is the best service for our community and, if somebody else is going to do that and it stacks up, I am supportive.”
He was responding to a question from panel member Kuldip Sahota, a Telford and Wrekin Council member and Labour’s nominee to challenge him in next year’s election.
“The government says that, after the election, if the PCC would put in a new economic plan and so on, they would look at it,” he said.
“If you are still the commissioner after the May election, would you be putting in a new economic plan?”
Mr Campion said the ongoing review, launched in July, was looking at the role of PCCs, and a white paper was expected to propose changes to local government in the autumn. He said he would await details of both.
“I think the question I’m picking out is ‘Do I still believe the essence of what I pitched for three years ago is still there?’,” he said.
“I do. Some of it has been progressed, because the two FRAs [fire and rescue authorities] have started working with each other.
“So, for me, driving together the two services to deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness, I think, is in the interest of the public we serve and, indeed, the hardworking men and women, volunteer or paid, who also make up those fire services.
“If it is me here after May, I will be wanting to use whatever legislative process the government offers to ensure we get the best service.”
In its judicial review, the fire authorities argued Ms Rudd hadn’t examined the public safety implications of the proposed governance merger closely enough and considered the “efficiency and effectiveness” that would result from the planned move altogether, rather than individually.
Mr Justice Garnham found against the fire authorities, concluding Ms Rudd had taken account of public safety and, while she had not applied the tests properly, she would have arrived at the same decision had she done so.
Reacting to that decision in 2019, Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority chairman Eric Carter said they had lost on a techincality and still did not accept the business case. He said that other areas of the country have seen fire and police governance merge, but these were areas with a “failing service” beforehand, whereas Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services has rated Shropshire’s fire brigade as “good”.