Home Secretary announces intention to merge blue light services

The need for further public sector spending cuts by the Government will mean integrating the police, fire and ambulance services such that the ‘still large fiscal deficit’ can be reduced, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

In a speech made at Think Tank Reform on 3 September, the Home Secretary stated: “With a still large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts. In the policing landscape of the future, I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services.”

May said that the next and “even tougher” challenge is “how we can reduce demand for public services through smarter policy. The need to go on reforming will not end with this Parliament.”

It’s thought that while front line services may not change, there could be ways in which to share back office functions and be located on the same site.

Some localities have already started to merge services. Theresa May referred to Northamptonshire, where Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has launched joint operations planning teams involving both the police and fire services. Indeed, Simmonds has been a great supporter of integration and has spoken about the future possibility of sending just one emergency vehicle to the scene of an accident which would be equipped to deal with a variety of situations.

Earlier this year, (then) fire minister Brandon Lewis outlined some examples of where plans to share blue light services have been put in place in order to save money. These included a predicted saving of £4 million in Hampshire where the police service, fire service and Hampshire County Council are sharing offices and a potential £3.5 million saving in Merseyside, where the fire and police services are planning to share a Control Room.

Home Secretary Theresa May MP

Home Secretary Theresa May MP

Cautious but firm approach needed

In an editorial following the Home Secretary’s announcement, The Guardian reported: “Although there are many successful examples of local collaboration – fire officers administering emergency First Aid, or police travelling in the same vehicle as firemen – the prospect of real integration sheds a cold light on existing management structures. The ambulance service has been (painfully) consolidated into ten regional trusts which would not lightly be levered out of the NHS in the name of integration. However, there are still 43 resolutely unconsolidated police services and 46 fire and rescue services, with 46 different governance, organisational and operational structures. While deaths from fire in the home are, happily, at a record low, the number of fire-fighters and the cost of running the fire service remains the same.”

Graham Ellicott, CEO of the Fire Industry Association (FIA), commented: “Any integration or consolidation of the blue light services will undoubtedly be difficult and a cautious but firm approach will likely be needed. However, before any approach is attempted the FIA believes that it would be prudent to try and bring more consistency to the operation of English Fire and Rescue Services.”

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the FIA

Graham Ellicott: CEO at the FIA

Elaborating on this last point, Ellicott explained: “For example, each of the 46 services operates a different attendance policy when it comes to automatic fire alarm systems. Surely in the 21st Century there could be more consistency brought to this situation, particularly so given that Primary Authority Schemes have now been extended to fire. Such schemes offer assured advice from one Fire and Rescue Authority to a business that operates across more than one local authority area.”

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