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Police commissioner's bid for fire service control slammed by county

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Norfolk CC has said a bid by the county’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) to take control of the local fire and rescue service would put the public at risk and is based on a “misleading” business case.

Responding to a consultation on the proposal launched in June by PCC Lorne Green (Con), Norfolk described a claim of £10m savings as “speculative and misleading”, adding the plan would put the service at “significant financial risk”.

Earlier this year, Mr Green commissioned consultants Grant Thornton to carry out a review of the service and four options were considered, including continuing with the service being part of the council.

The review found moving the fire and rescue service under the governance of the PCC “offers the best balance of benefits and risks”. It concluded this option should deliver “meaningful operational and financial benefits”, as well as flexibility for “full service integration” with Norfolk Constabulary if that is desirable.

When launching the consultation, Mr Green acknowledged examples of joint working between Norfolk Constabulary and the fire and rescue service, but added “successes have too often been slow, patchy and complicated”.

The options appraisal found there was little to separate the status quo option and the preferred option but said the higher value for money score informed its recommendation.

However, Norfolk has rubbished the proposal in a detailed response to the consultation. The county council said there had been no assessment of the impact of proposed changes to operational and emergency reponse to public safety. 

The council added the proposed new governance would result in funding for the service being ring-fenced and therefore unable to benefit from the ability of the council to allocate its income from council tax to protect it, as well as respond to challenges such as wildfires and extreme weather.

The response also challenged the claim that the service has been under pressure to make savings due to support Norfolk’s financial plans and said there is no evidence that a new model would improve collaboration.

The council added a claim of £10m-worth of efficiencies was wrong as the business case acknowledged a significant proportion of these savings could be made without a change in governance.

Margaret Dewsbury (Con), chair of Norfolk’s communities committee, said the council has “serious concerns” over the reliability of the review.

“It’s filled with assumptions and inaccurate information that just don’t stack up to present a viable case for change, nor deliver the efficiencies promised,” she said. “Norfolk County Council has been running Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) since 1974. Based on many years of experience, NFRS is managed efficiently, effectively and economically. It is safe in our hands.

“We are worried that the PCC is putting public safety at risk if he continues to pursue taking control over our Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.”

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