Sussex’s Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has decided to drop plans to take control of fire and rescue services in East Sussex.
Last year the Government set out its intention to allow PCCs to take over fire services where a local case can be made with the aim of improving accountability.
However the proposals have been opposed by figures across the political spectrum in Sussex, with many describing the idea as a ‘distraction’.
Mrs Bourne has been developing a business case and presented her findings to councillors and fire chiefs earlier today (Friday July 14).
Police and fire services will continue to work closely, but the governance of Sussex’s fire services will remain with East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council respectively.
Phil Scott, Labour’s county council group leader on the East Sussex Fire Authority, called the PCC’s announcement a ‘good common sense decision’, and described current governance arrangements as ‘both democratic and extremely robust’.
He added: “In terms of future collaboration with both the Police and Crime Commissioner and other fire and rescue services I would positively welcome the opportunity to work alongside others where our communities would benefit from further community fire safety initiatives and interventions.”
A spokesman for East Sussex Fire Authority said: “The fire authority will continue its work to make our communities safer by delivering high performing services and making effective use of our resources.
“The authority has always worked hard to ensure the communities it serves benefit from collaboration and partnerships with other organisations.
“We have most recently seen this come to fruition with the move into shared service headquarters with Sussex Police in Lewes and through the ongoing work with the Emergency Services Collaboration Programme which involves blue light services in both Surrey and Sussex.”
“The authority will continue to seek further opportunities to collaborate.”
Keith Glazier, Tory leader of East Sussex County Council, added: “Ensuring the people of East Sussex are safe is a key priority. We would expect any proposed changes to fire and rescue to include compelling evidence of how they would improve the service for people in our county. We will carefully consider any proposals when we are consulted.”
Mrs Bourne said: “Through the process of preparing the report, the fire authorities have given the public a renewed commitment to more energetically embrace collaboration.
“Sussex Police also supports closer working between the two fire services. The report shows them how to do this and where the efficiency savings can be made.
“I want to support that transformation without disruption to the service or causing unnecessary anxiety for fire service professionals and incurring further costs.
“That is why I will not be seeking a change to governance at this time.”
The study cost £150,000 to put together and was funded by central Government.
Mrs Bourne said: “This independent report shows that the current fire and rescue structures in Sussex could be modified and rationalised for the benefit of staff, local residents and taxpayers.”
“It reveals savings of at least £7m which can be realised over the next 10 years through closer collaboration, including standardising operating and training procedures, joint procurement and utilising compatible fire-fighting equipment.
“Regionally, our emergency services are already working together to share premises, fleet management and communication platforms. The savings and improved co-ordination from these large projects are being achieved, albeit slowly, without substantial changes to governance. However, as the report highlights, with real determination and leadership there are opportunities to work even more creatively together.”