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Star comment: Cold water poured on takeover

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

John Campion may be reflecting on that old warning – don’t play with fire.

John Campion

West Mercia’s Police and Crime Commissioner has suggested he should take over the governance of both Shropshire and Hereford & Worcester fire and rescue services.

He asked for feedback – and he has got it. To continue with the fire metaphor, water is being poured all over his idea from several quarters.

Every time some major change like this is proposed, the rationale is always it will save money and make things more efficient.

There have been various examples of mergers made amid promises of cost savings and so on, and then a little further down the line the bodies are mired in financial troubles and all those alleged benefits over what went before have become difficult to discern.

Mr Campion’s plan “would significantly improve local police and fire services, while saving the taxpayer £4 million a year”. The two fire and rescue authorities would be disbanded.

Mr Campion, the PCC, would become a supremo, the Commissioner for Police, Fire and Crime in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.

Who could possibly object to such a reasonable proposal? Well, the list is ever-growing.

There is Shropshire Fire Authority and the unions. That might have been expected. They have been placed in the role of turkeys and Mr Campion is trying to sell Christmas to them. Perhaps more seriously for Mr Campion, four councils affected by his proposals – Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin, Worcestershire and Herefordshire councils – are asking him to think again.

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A report going before Shropshire councillors casts doubt over the claim there will be a £4m in savings.

In council language, they are being told the figure has seemingly been plucked out of the air without any evidence to back it up. That is not all. Mr Campion’s proposal could lead to “diminished, or reduced services, with no local accountability”.

If this is all correct, we could end up with a poorer service and not save any money either. After that, what is left to commend Mr Campion’s idea?

There is merit in looking at ways things can be done better, duplication can be reduced, and money saved. Mr Campion has successfully sparked some serious discussion about the future direction of local fire services. He has shown that the role of the PCC has the potential to become much more high profile than anyone thought when PCCs were first elected.

The reaction gives him food for thought. However much he believes in his plan, a stand-off is something we could do without.

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