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Emergency Services: Closer Working

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

Efficient and effective emergency services are essential to keeping our communities safe. Closer working between the police, fire and rescue and NHS ambulance services can improve the way they serve communities, protect the public and provide value for money for taxpayers.

The Government are committed to supporting collaborative and innovative blue light working, and have invested over £80 million in such projects. While there are good examples of joint working in some local areas, there is much more to be done before collaborative working becomes the norm. For example, there could be savings to be made from greater sharing of premises, back offices, IT and procurement systems, which can release valuable resources to the frontline.

I have worked closely with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Health to develop a range of proposals to enable closer working between the emergency services and to provide for stronger local accountability. On 11 September 2015, we published a joint consultation paper setting out our proposals and seeking views on how best to implement them. The consultation ended on 23 October 2015. Over 300 responses were received from national, local and regional organisations, police forces, police and crime commissioners, fire and rescue authorities, local councils, ambulance trusts, front-line practitioners, associations and other interested groups and individuals. We would like to thank all those who gave their time to respond and contribute to the consultation process.

Today, we have published the Government’s response to the consultation, which summarises the comments we received and sets out how we intend to proceed.

Having carefully considered all the consultation responses, we intend to legislate to:

introduce a high-level duty to collaborate on all three emergency services, to improve efficiency or effectiveness;

enable police and crime commissioners to take on the functions and duties of fire and rescue authorities, where a local case is made;

further enable police and crime commissioners to create a single employer for police and fire staff where they take on the responsibilities of their local fire and rescue service, and where a local case is made;

in areas where a police and crime commissioner has not become responsible for fire and rescue, enabling them to have representation on their local fire and rescue authority with voting rights, where the fire and rescue authority agrees; and

abolish the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and give the Mayor of London direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service in London.

The intention is that these measures will ensure collaboration is widespread and ambitious across the country.

Bringing police and fire together locally under the leadership of a PCC will provide greater direct accountability for the public and will accelerate local collaboration. This does not mean a takeover of the fire service by the police. The important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained, with the current law that prevents a full-time police officer from being a firefighter remaining in place, and with no intention to give firefighters the power of arrest.

Alongside this, the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that responsibility for fire policy has transferred from the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Home Office shows the Government’s commitment to closer collaboration between police and fire and rescue services. Bringing together responsibility for fire and police in the same Department provides the same clear leadership in central Government that our proposals on emergency services collaboration seek to deliver locally. It provides an excellent opportunity for sharing good practice to drive reform and to deliver better outcomes for the public.

These measures will apply to England only. Further details on the measures and how the consultation has informed them, are set out within the Government’s published response.

Copies of the Government’s response to the consultation will be placed in the Library of the House.