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Risks of a single employer for police and firefighters

The Policing and Crime Bill, which will allow a police and crime commissioner (PCC) to take over the running of a fire and rescue service in England, has now come into effect after receiving Royal Assent. 

The FBU has campaigned nationally on this critical issue since the proposal was first floated and members will know the arguments against allowing PCCs to take over fire and rescue services.

Nevertheless, we know that at least eight Conservative-controlled PCCs have expressed an interest in taking on fire functions. Some of these PCCs have already begun to develop the required business cases.

PCCs, to date, have framed their cases to focus on the “efficiency savings” that are expected to result from sharing facilities, merging “back office” functions and joint procurement.

But PCCs have also discussed operating joint police and fire control rooms, streamlining police and fire management, and harmonising complaints systems and terms and conditions.

A “single employer model” presents firefighters with even greater risks. PCCs could seek to take firefighters out of nationally negotiated pay and terms and conditions.

Many PCCs have also echoed comments by Conservative ministers, including Theresa May before she was prime minister, about modernising and reforming the fire and rescue service.

Some have indicated keenness to develop the role of firefighters. The five National Joint Council workstreams will be central, but PCCs are likely to want to go further.

For example, while legislation maintains the ban on serving police officers working as firefighters, there is scope for firefighters to undertake non-warranted police activities, such as work with vulnerable people, particularly around issues relating to mental health, which take a substantial amount of police time.

In some parts of the country, firefighters are already undertaking police constable support officer (PCSO) work.

Operational and organisational independence from the police remains a red line, while the bottom line is that PCCs have no experience, training or understanding of the culture of the fire and rescue service, and how firefighters work.

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