Firefighters' union condemns police commissioner's takeover of Northamptonshire's fire service

The FBU says it cannot support commissioner Stephen Mold's takeover of the fire service budget.
The FBU says it cannot support commissioner Stephen Mold's takeover of the fire service budget.

The police commissioner's takeover of Northamptonshire's fire brigade budget is a threat to the 'neutrality' of the service, a union has claimed.

On Wednesday the Home Office gave Conservative Stephen Mold the green light to take on the responsibility for the county's fire and rescue service.

The current fire brigade budget in Northamptonshire is decided by the county council, but it has been subject to successive cuts.

The current fire brigade budget in Northamptonshire is decided by the county council, but it has been subject to successive cuts.

It means this autumn he will become the country's first police, crime and fire commissioner - relieving cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council as its budgetary controller.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) believes the disbanding of the 57 councillor fire authority, currently tasked with overseeing the service, is a threat to the "independence and neutrality of the fire service".

This week Mr Mold has talked of increasing the number of incidents fire and police attend together to make efficiency savings.

But Ben Selby, regional secretary of the FBU in the East Midlands, has hit out at the plans.

Stephen Mold, left, says the takeover received the backing of firefighters in the county.

Stephen Mold, left, says the takeover received the backing of firefighters in the county.

He said: "Many of the arguments in favour of PCC takeover of the fire service focus on “efficiency savings”.

"This model will end the independence that firefighters consider vital in order to carry out their jobs.

"This includes the ability to engage with local communities and gain access to people’s homes.

"It is widely understood, including among senior police officers, that the roles of the two services are completely different and that the ability of the fire and rescue service to engage with local communities in new ways, over the past decade, has largely been due to public awareness of this difference.”

Mr Selby believes firefighters will be hampered in the way they currently give out fire safety advice to homes by being associated with the police.

"At the moment, the public see us as a neutral service," he said, "They allow us into their homes to make sure they feel safe.

"If people see us closely linked to a law enforcement agency, they may not open the doors as frequently to us."

In the last few weeks, the Home Office has also announced plans for PCCs to take over fire services in Cambridgeshire, Staffordshire and West Mercia. Essex Fire and Rescue was taken over by the PCC there in October 2017.

The FBU says it is taking a stance against the Northamptonshire takeover to prevent others following suit.

But Mr Mold says his move to run the fire service budgets was well backed by firefighters.

“In Northamptonshire, 92 per cent of firefighters backed the proposal to transfer governance of the Fire and Rescue service to my office, as did more than 60 per cent of the members of the public who voted," he said.

“I have always been clear that this is not a merger, the two services will remain separate, there will be two chief officers and their roles and responsibilities will be distinct. The fire service budget will be ring-fenced to be spent on matters related to fire and rescue – something that does not happen in the current model where the fire service is part of Northamptonshire County Council.

“I am committed to protecting and where possible, increasing frontline services and making investments in new equipment and technology. There is currently no money set aside for maintenance and replacement of fire vehicles, and that is something that I will be addressing very quickly when the governance transfers.

“I’ve been talking to the chief fire officer this afternoon and he assures me that yesterday’s announcement was greeted really positively by local firefighters. I am looking forward to working with them and making a difference to safety in Northamptonshire.”