Tory MPs divided over Northamptonshire police and fire ‘merger’ plans

Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris
Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris

Daventry MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, has said he is open to the possibility of a merger between police and fire sevices in Northamptonshire.

Mr Heaton-Harris was responding following an announcement by Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire, Adam Simmonds, this week that he hoped to push through a full merger in the coming years.

Councillor Brendan Glynane

Councillor Brendan Glynane

Earlier this week, Mr Simmonds announced the two services could be merged and suggested even the ambulance service could one day become part of a joint ‘Northamptonshire emergency service’.

The Tory MP for Daventry said he was open to the idea but wanted to see more details before he committed his full support.

He said: “I quite like the idea in principal of having the first responder pretty much being able to deal with anything until back-up arrives.

“I think we are currently miles away from being able to go forward in a formal way, but as long as it is done properly and with proper consultation, and if it can be done on a county basis, there are some attractions to it.

“I would just like to see what the detail is.

The fire union this afternoon voiced “extreme concern” at reports of a possible merger.

Firefighters spoke to the Chron immediately after news broke, but in a statement today union members said they “were alarmed that high-level talks have already taken place between managers without the knowledge of the workforce”.

Steve Mason, FBU brigade secretary of Northamptonshire said: “We strongly believe that each of the emergency services are completely unique in the way that they need to work, the incidents they have to deal with and the management structure that is required to run an effective service. We are extremely proud that when a member of the public calls a fire engine, they get one.

“A merger would be driven by cuts and bad news for the public. It would affect how quickly firefighters get to an emergency and whether we have the personnel and resources to tackle it. The public want professionally trained firefighters when they call us.

“It is obvious that secret talks have been going on for some time. It is a major concern that the county fire officer has seen fit not to consult with the FBU. We were informed of the press release and the email to staff an hour before it was released. This is a totally unacceptable situation.”

The FBU has been informed that three senior managers including the chief fire officer are relocating their offices to police headquarters at Wootton Hall.

The union said it believes the decision puts a question mark over the future of the fire service HQ. They have already decided to move fire control to Daventry.

Mr Mason said: “Even the government’s own Fire Futures review two years ago ruled out the single governance model for emergency services. A forced merger, carried out with no consultation, is not in the best interests of the communities we serve or the firefighters we represent.

“We will be seeking urgent talks with the county fire officer and the county council portfolio holder for the fire service to discuss the future of Northants fire and rescue service. We will also be seeking meetings with the representative bodies of the other emergency services to consider the way forward.”

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition on Northamptonshire County Council has attacked possible plans to merge the county’s police and fire services.

The plan was also criticised by Mr Simmonds’ Conservative colleague, Northampton South MP, Brian Binley, who said it seemed as if the commissioner was ‘trying to take over the world’.

Leader of the opposition at County Hall, Councillor Brendan Glynane (Lib Dem, Delapre) has added to the criticism.

He said: “Our Conservative commissioner was not elected to run the fire service, or any other blue light service.

“This is an attempted political takeover of emergency services by a Conservative politician who has absolutely no right to do so.”