Union concern over ‘blue light’ merger plans

Horsley Road fire, January 13 2012

Horsley Road fire, January 13 2012

Have your say

Union leaders have expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the possibility of a complete merger between police, fire and ambulance services in Northamptonshire.

The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Adam Simmonds, yesterday said he hoped to push through a “merger” of the county’s police and fire services.

He said he envisaged a day when he could oversee the running of a single Northamptonshire emergency service, covering all blue light forces.

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

The plans could see police and fire services combined to share a single operational command structure and headquarters, potentially in Northampton town centre.

The Chron also understands the three most senior fire officers in Northamptonshire will shortly move to police HQ at Wootton Hall as a first step towards the move.

The news shocked members of the Fire Brigade Union. Secretary, Steve Mason, said: “We’ve not been consulted about this at all.

“The fire service is the fire service. It’s a completely different entity to anything else.

“I would be greatly concerned about any merger.”

He said firefighters were already concerned about having to attend incidents instead of ambulances because of a shortage of paramedics.

Neal Goosey, secretary of the Northamptonshire Police branch of the Police Federation shared those concerns.

He said he was open about the idea of blue light services sharing back office functions and even buildings.

However, he said: “The bottom line is we might all be united in having a blue light badge but we all have different roles and responsibilities.

“The ambulance service is at breaking point and it is being propped up by police officers ferrying the ill and injured to hospital, while the fire service is working as a first responder.

“I think the fear is this will just be a way of cutting other services.”

A chaotic day of announcements started yesterday when Northamptonshire County Council released a statement outlining plans for the police and fire services to work more closely together.

However, within minutes Mr Simmonds revealed discussions had been held about a complete merger.

Mr Simmonds said the plans had come following “12 weeks of discussions”.

He added: “I’m happy to use the word merger. I’m not about the status quo, a Northamptonshire emergency service is where we should go, that’s my ambition.”

By the end of the day, however, a spokesman for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue distanced the service from a complete merger, saying: “It is too early to say how this will manifest itself and there are no concrete plans or proposals on the table.”