Battle looms over decision to allow police and crime commissioner to take control of fire service

The police and crime commissioner, Jason Ablewhite

The police and crime commissioner, Jason Ablewhite - Credit: Archant

A court battle was signalled after the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority agreed to challenge the Home Office decision to allow police and crime commissioner Jason Ablewhite to seize control.

“Members have taken legal advice and believe there has been no evidence presented to demonstrate a business case for the change,” said Councillor Kevin Reynolds, the fire authority chairman.

“We have given this careful consideration since the decision was first announced by the Home Office in March.

“We have requested additional information from the Home Office about the rationale behind the decision and we have sought legal advice.

“The fire authority and fire and rescue service work extremely well together under the current governance model and continually perform well. No reason has been demonstrated as to why a change in governance will bring any substantial benefits. “Having taken legal advice, we have decided to challenge the decision by making a claim for a judicial review.”

The fire authority was formed in 1998 to govern Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service when Peterborough became a unitary authority. Prior to that, the county council had been responsible for the county’s fire service. Seventeen members – 13 from Cambridgeshire County Council and four from Peterborough City Council – make up the fire authority.

The fire authority believes it has a good case to remain independent and cite their ability to make savings of over £7million whilst retaining front line services.

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They also note that in the last 14 years alone, fires have reduced by 48 per cent, a 61 per cent reduction in casualties from fires and a 68 per cent reduction in deliberate fires in our communities.

In March Cllr Ablewhite, after the Home Office approved his new role, said: “The changes announced will focus on how the fire service is governed and I look forward to working with the fire authority to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities.”

“The exact date for transfer of responsibilities has yet to be agreed.”

The decision follows a year long process that involved the production of a business case which underwent a thorough consultation last summer.

The business case was formally submitted to the Home Office in October 2017. It was then independently assessed by The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CiPFA) in December 2017.

Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd said: “It’s great to see police and crime commissioners identifying opportunities to drive greater collaboration between police and fire – there is a real opportunity to improve the services provided to local people.

“The proposals will encourage joint working, sharing of best practice and innovative thinking.

“Having a directly accountable leader overseeing both policing and fire will also help maximise available resources and drive transformation across both services. I look forward to seeing the benefits this will bring to the local areas.”

Jason Ablewhite, police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: “The decision of Cambridgeshire Fire Authority to mount a legal challenge against a decision made by her majesty’s Government to transfer the governance of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service to myself is a matter between the councillors and the Home Office.

“As they have now entered the legal process it is not appropriate for me to comment. I intend to continue business as usual; working hard with colleagues from partner agencies to keep our communities safe.”