Fire authority pledges to continue fight against police commissioner takeover

Fears have been raised that public safety and the financial stability of the county’s fire service could be under threat if it is taken over by the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service could fall under the control of the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service could fall under the control of the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner

Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority has strongly opposed the ambitions of West Mercia PCC John Campion to merge the bodies, a commitment he reaffirmed following his re-election last month.

Meeting on Wednesday for the first time since the election, members vowed to carry on the fight against the takeover.

Fire Authority chairman Councillor Eric Carter welcomed new members to their first meeting and said it was important the authority worked as a team to resist the plans, which he said did not have the backing of the people of Shropshire.

Councillor Carter said: “All along we have been going with the view of our constituents, who have supported us since 2017 and said they don’t want to see this takeover.

“If it was the opposite and people were saying let the PCC take over I would not have suggested we fight on, but that isn’t the case.

“We continue the fight.”

West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion says he has a mandate to push ahead with the takeover

Councillor Carter said the authority was awaiting publication of the government’s White Paper on Fire Reform, which will set out changes to future governance of fire services in England including the potential transfer of Fire Authority powers to PCCs.

He added that he had “taken the fight” to the Local Government Association, which had also come out against the proposals.

“When the white paper is published we will see what they have listened to and taken note of,” said Councillor Carter.

Councillor Kuldip Sahota, who stood against Mr Campion as Labour candidate in last month’s PCC elections, said: “If the PCC does take over we might lose millions of pounds and that will have an impact on jobs and public safety.

“It’s important that we fight all the way to stop this fire authority being taken over, for the safety of the public.”

Councillor James Lavery said Mr Campion had spent millions of the police force’s reserves during his first term of office, during which time the pot had shrunk from over £50m to around £12m. This included an £11m bill to ‘divorce’ from Warwickshire Police.

He said: “We have to be very careful. The reserves we have will be under threat.”

Councillor Eric Carter, Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority chairman, said they would continue strong opposition to any plans for a takeover.

Further concerns were raised over accountability, with members saying the fire authority had much greater scrutiny powers over the fire service than the West Mercia Police and Crime Panel had over Mr Campion.

Councillor Carter described the panel as “toothless”, while Councillor Lavery said the PCC took major decisions without the panel’s approval.

Councillor Roger Evans said: “Councillor Lavery, Councillor Sahota and myself sit on the police and crime panel and we are concerned about what effect it has on the current PCC.

“We want the white paper to include more teeth for the police and crime panel.

“We need to hold the PCC to account and there’s no facility at present.”

Councillor Carter said the matter would be discussed in more detail following publication of the white paper.

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