Fire service could face shake-up as crime commissioner examines future options

New responsibilities? Dr Alan Billings could take responsibility for fire service in future
New responsibilities? Dr Alan Billings could take responsibility for fire service in future
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A report is being prepared on a possible shake-up of the way the police and fire services are managed in South Yorkshire but councillors have raised concerns about a potential reduction in accountability even before the results are released.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings joined South Yorkshire Fire Authority, a body otherwise made up of councillors from the county’s four district councils, in February and since then there joint bodies have been established to look for savings in the way both organisations’ buildings and vehicle fleets are managed.

Now information is being compiled to establish if more radical changes could reap more benefits, including the PCC taking control of the fire and rescue service alongside police or even welding the two services together under one chief officer, though at this stage that appears a less likely option.

However, councillors who sit on on South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Panel, a watchdog body which holds Dr Billings to account, have been told their responsibilities could expand if the PCC became more heavily involved with the fire service.

Coun Stuart Sansome, the panel’s deputy chairman, said: “I am really concerned that we would fall into the pot of accountability at a lower level, which I don’t think is good for the people of South Yorkshire, or ourselves.”

Coun Sue Wilkinson added: “I wonder what the logistics would be if we had to scrutinise both bodies?”

Her concern was that meetings would potentially become unwieldy because of the weight of material board members would be expected to discuss.

Dr Billings told the meeting: “By the time the report comes out, we will have seen it in practice where it has been done elsewhere.

“We are not reaching any conclusion, we want to know whether there are any benefits or whether we can do what we need to do with what we’ve got.”

If it was proposed to make changes, there would have to be consultation with the four councils, which are all currently represented on the fire and rescue authority.

Elsewhere in the country, some PCCs are looking at taking control of fire authorities and that has already happened in North Yorkshire.

Although there is potential to run both services in parallel under one chief, staff at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire are unaware of anywhere else in the country where that is being “seriously considered” at present.