Shropshire fire service takeover bid: Call for rethink on police and crime commissioner's plans
Four council leaders have united to tell the region’s police and crime commissioner they want a re-think over his plan to take over the governance of Shropshire’s fire service.
It has emerged that the leaders of Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire councils have written to West Mercia’s Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion, to call on him to think again over plans to combine Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire fire authorities.
A report to be considered at a full meeting of Shropshire Council next week also casts serious doubt on a £4 million savings figure, which Mr Campion says could be achieved by approving his bid.
The report states: "The proposals claim that under a rationalised governance structure, and by combining functions, savings of £4 million could be delivered. These savings are yet to be substantiated by any process of scrutiny or due diligence."
The council report also warns of a loss of local accountably over the service.
It states: "The proposals of the police and crime commissioner risk a loss of control and influence by elected members of the council over the operation of the local fire service. This could lead to diminished, or reduced services, with no local accountability."
A draft letter prepared by the leaders of the four councils voices concerns that the need to cut costs could affect the service.
It states: "On the basis of the information available to us currently, the ability to deliver such significant savings through a bringing together of governance arrangements seems to be uncertain.
This uncertainty inevitably leads to concerns that if the proposed savings are not achievable through the proposed changes to governance they will need to be delivered through other means which will either adversely impact on service delivery in the West Mercia area and/or significant changes to the precepts currently levied in some or all of the area concerned."
The news is the latest blow to Mr Campion's bid which has so far attracted opposition from Shropshire Fire Authority and unions.
A final decision on whether to approve the bid will be taken by the secretary of state in September after the conclusion of a consultation. All four councils are statutory consultees in process.
Shropshire Council's leader Peter Nutting has previously suggested Mr Campion is "empire building" - a claim the police and crime commissioner has rejected.
He said: "I'm a bit disturbed about it, because it does seem to me that it is just John Campion trying to build his empire even bigger than it already is."
Campion says fire consultation period is long enough
Mr Campion said: “The fire authorities have been involved in this process right from the start, at the beginning of this year. On top of this, I am now ensuring a full three months for consultation.
"I believe this provides sufficient time for any interested party to fully understand and consider this issue.”
A draft letter from the council leaders, which was published on Shropshire Council's website, questioned whether Mr Campion's plan would generate the £4million of savings he has claimed.
It stated: "On the basis of the information available to us currently, the ability to deliver such significant savings through a bringing together of governance arrangements seems to be uncertain."
Councillor Nutting also said there are also concerns over the loss of local accountability with the plans.
He said: "We are opposed to it because we want local accountability and we feel the area would be better covered by the existing fire authorities."
The councils are yet to provide formal responses as part of the consultation, with meetings scheduled to discuss the responses in the next few weeks.
Last week Shropshire's fire authority announced it would be employing its own consultants to examine Mr Campion's case.
One of the suggestions contained in the business case commissioned by Mr Campion is to move Shropshire Fire & Rescue's control room to a new facility being built in Hindlip as one way of saving money.
It states: "Substantial investment is already being made by West Mercia Police, Warwickshire Police and Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service in the new Hindlip control room together with a range of supporting investments in new infrastructure, hardware and software.
"While Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has and is making investment in ICT, the opportunity exists for it to join with the joint control room facility and for all services to align around the most appropriate software and technologies."