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Fire chiefs could run English police forces under plans

  • 9-12-2015

Fire chiefs could become chief constables despite no previous experience of arresting criminals, the government has proposed.

The idea appears in proposals to allow elected Police and Crime Commissioners to take over fire services in England.

The consultation says a fire chief with no experience as a constable could run both services, under a PCC.

The national body for police chiefs has already said it is "surprised" by the idea.

The proposals are part of a broad and detailed strategy to merge parts of emergency service planning and management.

Elected PCCs currently oversee the work of each police force and they have the power to appoint chief constables - while a separate body made up of local councillors oversees fire and rescue services.

In the consultation, published by the Home Office, ministers say that they want to encourage more "efficiency and effectiveness" by placing a legal duty on all emergency services to work together.

They say this could ultimately include some PCCs taking over fire and rescue authorities - and that would mean creating a single organisation made up of police and fire staff.

That new body would need a chief officer answerable to a PCC - and this post would have to be a chief constable.

"The post of chief officer would be open to both senior police officers and fire officers, since they will have relevant experience," says the document.

"To achieve this, we will remove the requirement for senior fire officers applying for chief constable roles to previously have been a constable."

While proposals to bring fire services under PCC control have been expected, the National Police Chiefs Council did not appear to know ministers would were going to propose allowing fire chiefs to seek the top job.

Chief Constables Lynne Owens and Giles York, who speak for the police on national emergency services and workforce issues, said: "It was surprising to see the suggestion that a chief fire officer would be eligible to apply for the chief constable post included in the government's proposal.

"This seems to suggest a fundamental change to the current position in which chief constables hold the office of constable and are experienced in the exercise of those powers.

"We will look to work with the Home Office and College of Policing to better understand what is proposed to enable a full and thoughtful response to this issue, grounded in public, not self, interest."

'Closely related work'

Policing minister Mike Penning, a former firefighter, said: "It simply doesn't make sense for emergency services to have different premises, different back offices and different IT systems when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries.

"Directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners are accountable to the people they serve and uniquely placed to improve the way the emergency services are delivered at a local level."

The Local Government Association has already said it sees no "pressing need" to change the way fire services are governed - and the Fire Brigades Union said it would fight any plans to merge the service with police.

"Police are law enforcers, while fire and rescue is a humanitarian service with a very different remit and culture," said FBU general secretary Matt Wrack.

"Firefighters need to be seen to be neutral within the communities they serve."

But Kevin Hurley, the PCC for Surrey, and both a former firefighter and police officer, said: "The key principles of both the fire service and the police are the same - to keep the public safe and act in their interests. As such, I see no reason to exclude senior fire officers from holding the position of Chief Officer for both services. I have already written to the Home Office to inform them that I would be keen to lead on collaboration between the police and fire service within Surrey as a 'Public Safety Commissioner'."

The consultation closes on 23 October.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2015 BBC


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