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Northamptonshire’s commissioner Simmonds “could run police and fire service” following merger talks

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  • by John Harrison
 

Police commissioner Adam Simmonds says a change in legislation could allow him to take over the running of the county’s fire service.

Mr Simmonds today revealed he plans to push through a “merger” of the county’s police and fire services.

Currently, legislation prevents a complete merger of blue light services.

However, Mr Simmonds said the Government was looking at the possibility of making changes to the law, which could result in one organisation, or one person, running all the services.

Asked whether he envisaged a time where he ruled over police, fire and potentially even ambulance operations, he said: “I think the Government’s ambition is just that.

“Whether we will be like that in Northamptonshire, I don’t know, but unless we start the conversation about why we are we doing things this way, nothing will change.”

Mr Simmonds said he has revealed his plans following 12-weeks of discussions with council bosses and fire chiefs.

Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet member for fire, Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage (Con, East Hunsbury), said he backed the plans completely and also shared a vision of a single emergency service, potentially incorporating the ambulance service as well.

He revealed the fire service and police could also share a combines headquarters, potentially inside the county council’s new Angel Street development, in Northampton town centre.

Councillor Gonzalez de Savage said: “I think there is great potential, but we also have to look at the operational obstacles.

“Working in the town centre has its restrictions but our plan it to make very efficient and effective use of all of our assets.”

An announcement was initially made at 2pm today by the county council revealing the two blue light services were to work more closely together.

The plans were intended to open the door to potential shared offices, a shared control room and even a shared headquarters.

The official announcement, made by Northamptonshire County Council on behalf of both services, stopped short of saying the two services were to combine into one.

However, Mr Simmonds confirmed his hopes of moving from “operational integration” towards a full “merger”.

His announcement, which is supported by senior politicians inside County Hall, caught firefighters, police officers and County Hall insiders by surprise, however.

Both organisations already work in partnership across a number of areas including incident response, training and campaigns to improve resilience and community safety in the county.

The two emergency services said by strengthening the relationship, both fire and police services will be able to explore new opportunities to provide “greater emergency and community services, whilst also ensuring the best value for money for Northamptonshire people”.

County council cabinet member for fire and public protection Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage said: “Closer working between Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Northamptonshire Police makes very good sense - not just for both organisations, but for the people of Northamptonshire too.

“In fact, in our recent consultation, 97 per cent of respondents backed the idea of the fire and rescue service working more closely with other local blue light organisations.

“The financial challenges we are all facing in the public sector mean that local services need to find new ways to work smarter and improve our capacity so that we can continue to improve the services we provide and make Northamptonshire a safer place for everyone.”

Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds said: “The police and fire services both work tirelessly to protect people and property. They already work together well and this move will enable closer working to be developed. In time this will potentially produce significant benefits for the people of Northamptonshire.”

However, a spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue claimed a full merger was not yet on the cards.

He said: “There are wide ranging discussions taking place with Northamptonshire Police to explore opportunities of how we could work more closely together in the future in order to meet the needs of our communities.

“It is too early to say how this will manifest itself and there are no concrete plans or proposals on the table. There are many opportunities open to us in the future through this initiative and we are keen to explore these in partnership.”

“The safety of the public remains at the top of our agenda and so any work together which would increase this is always something we would be keen to look into.”

 

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