25th Aug, 2019

War of words as firefighters union hits out at West Mercia PCC's takeover

Ross Crawford 14th Aug, 2019 Updated: 14th Aug, 2019

FIRE budgets could be cut in favour of policing, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned after the local fire authorities lost a bid to block a takeover from West Mercia’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

The FBU warns Hereford and Worcester and Shropshire fire and rescue services could face cuts of £4million under the takeover.

And it has dismissed as ‘misleading’ claims from the PCC, John Campion, that the cuts could be implemented without affecting emergency cover.

Andrew Scattergood, FBU West Midlands regional secretary, said: “It’s dangerously misleading for the PCC to suggest he can cut £4million from existing budgets without affecting emergency cover.

“Control room staff are firefighters and are trained to provide vital fire survival guidance calls – scrapping their posts or merging with policing services is simply not safe.

“Firefighters provide a humanitarian service, which often allows access to areas of the community that the police sometimes struggle to engage with.

“We cannot do that unless it’s clear that we are not the police.

“We’re not going to cave in on this – we’ll keep fighting until this hostile takeover stops. This is a serious matter of public safety.”

The FBU and fire and rescue authorities have adamantly opposed the takeover, voicing concerns about its undemocratic nature as well as John Campion’s lack of fire service experience.

PCC Campion set out his initial business case for single governance in 2017, highlighting a range of improvements and efficiencies that could be delivered by ensuring better collaboration between local police and fire services.

The two local Fire Authorities tried to block the change by applying for a judicial review of the technical process the Government followed.

However, a High Court judge confirmed the process followed by the Government was lawful, giving the green light for the transition to single governance to begin.

West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said: “I have the utmost respect for our firefighters, but I am afraid the claims from the FBU are deliberately misleading and amount to little more than scaremongering”.

“Their suggestion that fire budgets could be cut in favour of policing is nonsense.

“Money for each individual service is legally protected. As such, it would be illegal to take money given for fire services and use it for policing.

“The FBU’s fears regarding emergency responses and public safety have no evidential basis.

“The issue of public safety has been formally scrutinised throughout this process by independent consultants, Government, CIPFA and most recently a high court judge.

“It is clear that rather than damaging public safety, there are actually some significant benefits that single governance would enable.

“In Hereford and Worcester, the FBU is in a long, drawn out dispute with the Fire Authority regarding proposed changes to frontline services.

“The union does not seem to acknowledge that my proposals would actually give greater protection to frontline fire services.

“My proposals would deliver significant efficiencies in back-office support functions, which in turn would enable greater investment in the vital frontline services our communities value most.

“My proposals are about maximising the amount of frontline resource for our police and firefighters, not making cuts”.

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