Five years ago we merged our trading standards and fire and rescue service to form a single community protection directorate.
- Project: Single community protection directorate
- Objectives: Bring fire and trading standards together in a single service
- Timescale: 2011 – present
- Cost to authority: Small cost relating to voluntary redundancies – net savings below (see outcomes)
- Number of staff working on project: Total staff involved 854 FTE
- Outcomes: Quicker action on fire risks from faulty goods; simpler regulatory process for local businesses, £250,000 savings per year
- Officer contact details: Roy Wilsher
While I wouldn’t pretend it’s been plain sailing, it’s been an enormously beneficial move for both services.
The merger might at first seem a little tenuous; there is a world of difference between a lot of the day-to-day work of a firefighter and a trading standards officer but the logic was compelling.
In response to the 2008 financial crisis, we held a review of our structures and services and identified two big areas of overlap between fire and trading standards: both regulate local businesses and both protect vulnerable people. This is most evident in the work we do to protect older people. The people most likely to fall victim to scammers and rogue traders are also the people most at risk of death or serious injury in a fire. As a single directorate we can work more effectively to protect these people from both risks.
We launched the community protection directorate in January 2011. I became the county council’s director of community protection, with a management board comprising senior fire and trading standards officers.
Hertfordshire was the first council to establish a fully integrated team structure for a fire and rescue and trading standards combined service. In this department, trading standards officers manage uniformed fire service personnel and vice versa.
However much sense a merger makes, it’s always challenging to implement in practice and this was no different. Trading standards and the fire service had very different cultures and management styles, not to mention different terms and conditions of employment. Because our aim was to integrate seamlessly, our change management programme was more complicated than simply merging the existing teams into a single management structure. Both services were, in effect, restructured, with new roles created and existing roles removed in a process that sometimes saw fire and trading standards officers competing for the same role.
We’ve since made a concerted effort to build a single culture, management style and ethos within the joint service so we can maximise the benefits of the merger and make the best use of all our resources.
A key benefit has been the ability to take swift action to tackle the fire risks posed by dangerous products. When Stevenage Blue Watch attended a fire caused by a faulty phone charger in October last year, the operational watch commander, having established where the charger was bought, was able to speak to a trading standards colleague the same day who seized the retailer’s remaining stock – all within 24 hours of the fire. This close relationship has made a real difference.
While the benefits to residents are significant, there are also benefits for local businesses. The directorate is able to act as a single regulator covering fire safety, product safety and fair trading with a single philosophy underpinning the approach to regulation. Organisations have saved thousands of pounds as a result, giving a real boost to Hertfordshire businesses.
The merged team also makes primary authority simpler. Primary authority is a government scheme that enables a business to form a legally recognised partnership with one local authority (the primary authority) to get assured advice about how they can comply most efficiently with regulation, because local authorities can sometimes differ in how they interpret regulation. This assured advice must then be taken into account by other local authorities when dealing with that business. In Hertfordshire, the same team can act as primary authority for both fire and trading standards.
With collaboration high on everyone’s agenda this seamless integration of services within a county council shows the benefits that can be delivered by looking beyond obvious mergers and identifying potential partners with the same aims and audiences even if they are very different organisations.
Roy Wilsher, director of community protection, Hertfordshire CC