Union backs plans for North Yorkshire crime tsar to take over fire authority

Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, supports Julia Mulligan's proposal to replace the existing North Yorkshire fire service watchdog.
Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, supports Julia Mulligan's proposal to replace the existing North Yorkshire fire service watchdog.

The North Yorkshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union has given a cautious backing to plans that would see the county’s police commissioner take over the governance of its fire service.

Branch secretary Steve Howley said the current fire authority, which oversees the work of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, was not fit for purpose.

Crime commissioner Julia Mulligan has launched a consultation, which ends on September 22, on whether she should take the place of the entire organisation or just have a seat on the authority instead.

Mr Howley told a debate on BBC Radio York today that his organisation, which represents local firefighters, had concerns about her preferred option of replacing the authority.

He said he wanted assurances that Mrs Mulligan would invest in the front line and that the county’s police and fire services would maintain separate identities.

He added: “She has given some of those commitments within a letter to the FBU, so it is in some respects a no-brainer.”

Earlier this month, North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive came out against Mrs Mulligan’s preferred option of replacing the existing fire authority, saying it would be more appropriate for her to have a seat on the body instead.

Although the final decision on any governance changes remains with the Government, a key factor will be whether the North Yorkshire police and crime commissioner’s proposals have local support.

Mrs Mulligan first made her case for scrapping the fire authority – on which 16 councillors sit – when she began a public consultation last month.

She argued that bringing governance of police and fire services under her control would improve efficiency and collaboration while saving money.

Separately today, the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, whose job is to hold Mrs Mulligan to account, raised concerns that it would not be able to do so if she took on a wider role.

Coun Ashley Mason, joint Vice Chair of the Panel and a City of York Councillor, said: “The Home Office has made it clear that they are not looking to extend our powers, or the resources at our disposal to be able to do a much bigger job effectively.

“Panels are often told to focus instead on building a good working relationship with the PCC and their office to be able to do our job effectively. We constantly strive towards this in North Yorkshire.

“But panel members have serious concerns that if the fire authority is scrapped and the responsibility for scrutiny falls solely on the panel, there is really no accountable body with any great weight behind it to ensure that the PCC is doing all she should for our police and fire services.”

During today’s BBC debate, Mrs Mulligan said if she took over the fire authority she would halt cuts to the service and invest in the frontline, by making savings elsewhere.

She said 2,000 people had so far responded as part of the consultation, and that 60 per cent backed her preferred model.

She said: “It’s not about me building empires, it’s about doing right by the public here.”