To receive a presentation on collaboration between GFRS and the PCC.
Jean Cole, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, provided the Committee with a presentation on Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) and Gloucestershire Constabulary collaboration.
It was explained that the duty for emergency services to collaborate in England was determined within the Police and Crime Act 2017. The Act was deliberately broad in its definition of collaboration to allow for maximum local innovation.
It was understood that parties entering into a proposed collaboration needed to be satisfied that it would have a positive impact on efficiency and effectiveness. Should it be found that the collaboration would have an adverse effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of an emergency service, then the legislation would not require that service to enter into a collaborative agreement.
Members were informed that the South West Emergency Services Collaboration Strategic Board had been disbanded, however the South West Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group had continued for the sharing of best practice and collaborative opportunities.
Since the election of the new Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Chris Nelson, in May 2021, opportunities for greater collaboration between GFRS and Gloucestershire Constabulary had been explored. Areas for consideration included road safety, training and development, and shared access to premises.
It was explained that at a strategic level, a Memorandum of Understanding had been developed which set out the governance for the partnership; the objectives for the partnership; opportunities for finance; and details for the termination of arrangements.
An action plan had also been developed identifying five key areas for collaborative work, including leadership arrangements, the shared estate, and operational opportunities.
Members noted that the next steps were to sign off the strategic documents and to identify officers for the delivery of objectives.
One member asked for specific detail on the collaborative work undertaken at a tactical level between GFRS and Gloucestershire Constabulary, arguing that low level collaboration should be part of the norm.
Nick Evans, Deputy PCC for Gloucestershire, was asked to explain to the Committee the top three collaborative projects to be undertaken by GFRS and Gloucestershire Constabulary. He explained that collaboration went beyond dealing with specific incidents, and that the focus was on systemising and formalising this collaborative partnership.
He continued to explain that the top three priorities for collaboration were:
· The One Estate project – This sharing of premises would help to increase the footprint of the Constabulary in Gloucestershire; provide access points for police officers; and help to embed joint working and an awareness of how each service operates.
· Road Safety – A Road Safety Forum had been established, along with a formal collaboration agreement between GFRS, the OPCC, Gloucestershire Constabulary, and Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), which set out the Forum’s parameters.
· Community Safety – This included tackling persistent anti-social behaviour; considering how the services could contribute to developing a sense of community in areas where there were problems; and providing a visible presence to show that these communities were taken seriously.
One member commented that they could see a number of benefits for the police through this collaborative work, and little, if none for GFRS. They expressed concern that the lines were being blurred between them. They also stated that it was a police ‘force’ rather than police ‘service’.
In response, Deputy PCC Evans proposed that it was a police ‘service’ and reassured members that lines were not being blurred, that each service had their own clear duties, but that they could collaborate in areas that they were all responsible for, such as in tackling anti social behaviour, and in working together to make communities safer.
Mark Preece, Interim Chief Fire Officer, also stressed that both GFRS and Gloucestershire Constabulary maintained their independence, however it was in the public interest for them to work together in key areas to maximise effectiveness.
In response to a query, it was understood that Newent and Dursley Community Fire Stations were being considered for use as shared premises. The CFO explained that that these stations were currently on-call stations, and using them as shared premises would be a more effective use of the public estate.
The CFO added that GFRS was benefitting from collaboration with the Constabulary by being able to access their excellent leadership and management training facilities at the Sabrina Centre in Berkeley. He also explained that collaboration was necessary between the two services to reduce road deaths in the County.
Cllr Dave Norman MBE, Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Parking and Libraries, reminded the Committee of the difficult historic relationship between GFRS, GCC and the OPCC, and welcomed this positive collaborative approach under the new PCC. He also reassured members that he would not allow GFRS to enter into any partnership that would not be of benefit to the service.
One member suggested that the change in relationship between GCC, GFRS and the OPCC was as a result of party politics and expressed the view that there was no need for closer association between GFRS and Gloucestershire Constabulary.
One member commented that party politics should be set aside and that collaboration could be beneficial, so long as the governance of each service remained separate. Another member echoed that a collaborative approach could only be of benefit to local communities, whilst another member suggested that the public would be delighted that these services were working together.
A further member queried whether the separate responsibilities of each service were being blurred.
Another member commented that, whilst collaboration was essential, the use of shared premises created a perception issue and that the fundamental differences between the fire and police services should be ring-fenced.
The CFO explained that working alongside each other had benefits for both services in helping to identify and help those most vulnerable. He also reassured the Committee that the stations would retain their community assets, and that any costs incurred would be covered by the police, as determined through the Memorandum of Understanding.
One member informed the Committee of having visited the Emergency Services Community Station in Hayle, Cornwall, which co-located the fire, police and ambulance services. They noted that the principle for the tri-service station was good, however they felt the design was flawed and therefore requested that the designs for the shared use of Dursley and Newent Community Fire Stations be shared with the Committee for scrutiny.
The Deputy PCC provided reassurance that the operational and leadership separation between the police and fire services remained and would continue to do so, that both services retained their clear responsibilities and duties, and that the governance of both services were independent. He reiterated that collaboration was about working together to deliver improved services to the communities in Gloucestershire.
In terms of the use of shared premises, the Deputy PCC reassured members that the police would not be detaining people in community fire stations as they had a custody suite in Gloucestershire that they used already, and that having spoken to people in Newent, they welcomed the shared use of buildings that were already in the public estate. These shared premises would be used to enable police officers to complete reports and would increase police presence in communities by providing a base.
The Chair thanked the Deputy PCC for taking the time to talk to the Committee. It was requested that a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding be shared with Committee members, and for a progress report on collaboration activities, focusing on the shared estate, road safety and community safety, be brought back to the Committee in six months time.