The Government are very keen to encourage further collaboration between the blue-light services and have taken actions through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to empower exactly that.
I wish you and your family a happy new year, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on retaining her job. She is doing splendid work.
Can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that, given that collaboration is potentially leading to a sort of patchwork quilt of service across the country, he will ensure that the integrity of services will be maintained?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I would say two things. First, joint police and fire governance will improve accountability because there will be a single point of accountability, democratically elected. Secondly, in relation to the efficiency and integrity of fire services, I hope that he will welcome a very significant reform introduced by this Government—the introduction of independent inspection of fire services.
I recently held meetings with the chief constable and the chief fire officer for the Humberside area, and welcomed the fact that they are collaborating more closely. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that in an area that contains chemical plants, oil refineries and other dangerous plant, the fire service will not take its eye off the ball in its main role?
I am well aware of the risks in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As the Home Secretary said, our local fire services are adequately resourced and sit on relatively high levels of reserve, so we believe that they have the resources to do the job.
Twenty-two-year-old Steven Dyson’s body was found in the River Irwell in Ramsbottom on Saturday morning, six days after he went missing on new year’s day. It is at the worst of times that we often see the best of people. Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking Greater Manchester police, our fire service, and the hundreds of local volunteers who spent last week looking for Steven, as well as Ramsbottom British Legion, which hosted the campaign centre, and all the local businesses that donated items to our cause? The outpouring of support was incredible, and I hope that it goes some way to giving strength to Steven’s dear mum and everyone mourning.
I am sure that the whole House would want to associate itself with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and to pass on our condolences to the young man’s family. Of course I join him in paying tribute to the hard work of all the emergency services involved in that tragic circumstance.
Does the Minister accept that there is already a great degree of co-operation and collaboration between our blue-light services and that any move by the Government to force further formal collaboration through mergers could be detrimental to all services?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that there are fantastic examples of collaboration across the country —fire and fire, police and police, and across the blue-light services—and evidence is building about the benefits, not just financial but in terms of service to the public. We are simply saying that where police and crime commissioners want to seize such an opportunity to improve accountability for local performance, we will enable them to do so, but they still have to deliver a strong business case and they still have to consult their communities.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), I was very uneasy about the amalgamation of the Wiltshire fire service and the Dorset fire service last year. Does my hon. Friend the Minister not agree that it makes subsequent co-operation with the ambulance service or the local authority very much more difficult? Is their amalgamation irreversible, and if so, what will he do about the other amalgamations he seeks?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. My understanding is that that amalgamation is actually working well, and has largely been welcomed across the system. It does present challenges for further amalgamations because of boundary issues, but I would ask him to open his mind to the benefits of that merger, which appear to me to be very real.