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Police and Fire Service Collaboration

Volume 639: debated on Monday 16 April 2018

1. What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater collaboration between police and fire services. (904739)

16. What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater collaboration between police and fire services; and if she will make a statement. (904755)

18. What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater collaboration between police and fire services. (904757)

This Government firmly support collaboration between emergency services and have invested more than £88 million in projects to support that since 2013. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a host of measures to enable collaboration to go further and faster, which include a statutory duty to collaborate and allow elected police and crime commissioners to take on fire and rescue governance.

I welcome the recent Government investment of £24 million, following the Manchester bombing last May. The package includes almost £10 million to cover the cost of extra staffing and other pressures on Greater Manchester police. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is much we can learn from the response to the Manchester Arena terrorist atrocity and that we should continue to work to try to improve further how our excellent emergency services respond to such tragic events?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Of course, the important report highlights the acts of bravery and compassion that took place on the night of 22 May and in the following days. As Lord Kerslake noted, the response was “overwhelmingly positive”, but the report also shows a need for improvement in some areas. As she points out, it makes certain recommendations, which I know the local emergency services and the Home Office will follow up.

Is my right hon. Friend as pleased as I am to hear that Staffordshire fire service is now not going to take to judicial review her decision to merge the governance of Staffordshire’s police and fire services? Does she agree with me—and, more importantly, with Matthew Ellis, our excellent PCC—that this merger will mean that an additional £10 million a year will be saved, which can go into frontline services?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for his local leadership in achieving this. It was not uncontroversial for a while, so I am grateful that it has been able to go through, and that he accepts and the local authorities have accepted the independent advice we have received. I hope he and Matthew Ellis, and all the other organisations involved, will make a great success of it.

Clearly, when we are looking at these reforms, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will suit every part of the UK. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Government are going to be driven by a pragmatic approach, which will ensure that cross-service collaboration will be driven by what is best in terms of delivering results for communities up and down the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right to say that this is not a case where one size fits all, but it is the case that collaboration will lead to efficiencies, cost savings and a better service for all. I hope that the leadership we have seen across the country from some PCCs will be taken forward by others.

Collaboration between all the emergency services is vital, not least because these workers face some of the same threats, including a large and increasing number of assaults on them. Will the Home Secretary support my amendment to my own private Member’s Bill, which we will be discussing next week, to make sure that sexual assault on emergency workers is also an aggravated offence? It is wrong that these emergency workers are facing these abuses.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should do more to protect emergency service workers, which is why we are working closely with him on the Bill. I hope we will arrive at an accommodation in order to get it through.

There is a lot to be gained from the police and fire services working closer together, but this cannot be used as an excuse for cuts. Efficiencies could come from it, but does the Home Secretary acknowledge that both the police and fire services are significantly underfunded at the moment and we cannot have more cuts coming in as a result of closer working?

One way of avoiding the impact of cuts that the hon. Lady highlights would be by having greater efficiencies, and having collaboration between the emergency services is an excellent way of doing that. That is what we have seen up and down the country, and I urge her to see more of it in her own area.

The PCC takeover of fire services will change the perception of firefighters from “public safety” to “law enforcement”. My question is: when are the Government going to provide adequate funding so that councils are not forced into hostile PCC and fire service mergers? I am looking for a meaningful response on central Government funding, not another brush-off about earmarked reserves.

The hon. Lady underestimates the high regard in which firefighters are held right across this country. The public know the difference, and are able to distinguish between firefighters and policemen and women, but they want to see better working of emergency services together.