Recent proposals from the Government to place Police and Crime Commissioners in charge of the Fire and Rescue Service, have been met with a decidedly mixed reaction. The plans are part of a wider scheme on the part of the Government to increase the efficiency of the service, and save costs in the process. The Fire and Rescue Service in particular have reacted vehemently to these proposals. But how fair is this reaction, and to what extent is this a useful move by the Government? How2Become decided to investigate the Police Fire Service Merger.
What is the Police Fire Service Merger?
In short terms, the proposal is for current and future Police and Crime Commissioners to take administrative control of the Fire and Rescue Service. They would act as fire and rescue authorities, alongside those who are currently serving in the role. The proposal has been made as an attempt by the Government to save money, by bringing two integral welfare services together. If the proposal does go ahead, it would take place on a local, need-based basis. So, the plans would only be implemented if local authorities in the area felt that it was neccessary to implement a Police Fire Service Merger.
The question is, is it a good idea? Let’s explore the pros and cons.
While the Fire and Rescue Service is one of the most trusted organisations in the country, they have been under heavy criticism for quite some time now. The previous coalition Government in particular were scathing in their review of the service, and it comes as no surprise that the new single party Government have wasted little time in making radical changes, such as the Police Fire Service Merger.
Supporters of the idea have argued that by bringing together the Fire Service and the Police Service, you are essentially giving the British public the best of both worlds. Structured organisation can only be empowered by more structure and more organisation, and that is essentially what the Government are trying to do. Could the Fire and Rescue Service benefit from an organisational overhaul? Perhaps this is a step too far, but supporters have argued that the Government are simply providing them with more tools to improve.
Furthermore, it is an uncomfortable truth that the Government have to save money. While it’s essential for public safety that we keep the Fire Service running in the best way possible, even they are not immune from cuts. So far, all of the criticism has been directed towards the fact that the Fire Service will suffer from the impact of changed leadership. What about the Police Service? Will they not feel the cuts too? This is simply the reality of the current economic climate. Cuts have to be made. At least the Government are trying to make a positive out of the situation.
The biggest criticism that has been directed at the Government in the wake of their Police Fire Service Merger proposal, is the impact that this move would have on the Fire Service. Critics, in particular the Fire Service, have argued that the Police and Fire Service operate under completely different guidelines and spectrums. Solving crime, and the power to arrest, is not the same as tackling fires. They argue that senior police officials have no understanding of what tackling a blaze entails, the administrative requirements that are involved or the current needs of the Fire Service. As such, they cannot possibly hope to take authority over an organisation that they know nothing about, and if they do, will only damage the efficiency of the service.
Furthermore, there is a feeling in the Fire Service that this will negatively impact their reputation. The Fire Service are held in huge esteem by the general public, who trust them with their lives. By incorporating officials from an organisation that have taken a reputational hit within the past ten years, the Fire Service believe their relationship with communities and the public will be damaged. The bottom line is that almost everyone trusts the Fire Service, who regularly put their lives on the line to protect the public. While the Police are a highly reputable and trusted organisation, they no longer hold the same reputation that they once did. Fire Officials believe that this connection will damage rather than help their organisation in the long run.
Finally, cuts to the Fire Service are seen as hugely irresponsible, and the Government have been accused of putting costs ahead of public safety. There might well be cuts in every organisation, but to damage the standing of such an important, welfare based organisation is decidedly reckless. Lives are more valuable than money. This is a lesson that critics of the proposals hope the Government will realise, before it’s too late.