Adam Simmonds is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire.

The Government recently introduced the Policing and Crime Bill into the House of Commons, which proposed, among other measures, changes in legislation to enable Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to take on responsibility for Fire and Rescue Services in their locality.

This is a change I welcome and that I have been long calling for since my election as PCC in November 2012.

In February 2013, I announced that I wanted Northamptonshire to become the first fully integrated Police and Fire Service in the UK; however, I also wanted to demonstrate to Government how we believed the two services could work more closely together in the interests of local people.

Funding from the Home Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government over the past three years has enabled us to:

  • Develop three co-located Police/Fire Stations- Thrapston, Rushden and Mereway (Northampton)
  • Establish a fully integrated and co-located Prevention and Community Protection Team.
  • Establish a fully integrated and co-located Joint Operations Team
  • Introduce innovative crewing arrangements between Police and Fire in rural locations (RIVs)
  • Establish a joint planning and incident response team across the three emergency services through a Multi-Agency Incident Assessment Team (MIAT) vehicle.

Our Interoperability Programme which has allowed us to achieve these outcomes has not come about just because of my ambition for the two organisations to be the first fully integrated service in the country or because of an accusation that has previously been laid at my door because “I want to take over the world.” It has been able to achieve a lot because all of us involved in the programme, operationally and strategically, are trying to achieve the same outcomes; a safer better protected community which is served more efficiently and effectively by its emergency services.

The development of the Interoperability programme between the two organisations focused on removing areas of duplication. We have identified areas where the two services could work more closely together and established “quick wins” which could begin to change the culture and perceptions the two organisations may have previously held about each other.

Sharing stations between the two services was one example of this and a no-brainer. In the major towns and in some more rural locations in our county the Police, Fire and Ambulance services were located in three separate buildings often within a mile of each other. This not only meant there were efficiencies that could be made in the capital programmes across the three organisations, but also meant that savings could be made in the services revenue programmes as a result of reducing the costs of maintaining three separate buildings.

After pursuing changes such as these, the programme then began to explore other areas of duplication, which could see functions integrated between the two organisations to provide a better standard of service. One example of this is the growing prominence of preventative activities. In Northamptonshire we have integrated and co-located the Police and Fire teams in this area, streamlined the management structure and are now in a position where everybody working within that team is able to issue both crime and fire prevention advice through one contact with the public. In time there should be no reason why this cannot be expanded to include public health advice and other advisory services as collaboration with other partners continues to grow.

We have also developed a joint response pilot between the two services. We have crewed a Watch Manager from the Fire and Rescue Service with a Police Constable from the Police Force in a 4×4 vehicle which builds upon the Fire and Rescue Services Initial Intervention Vehicle (IIV) concept.

This pilot has been hugely successful; the operatives have been delivering heart start training to ten year olds in some of the most rural locations in our county, furthest from bluelight response. They have been training eight year olds in road safety awareness and have developed a shared mobilisation protocol to assist each other in searches for missing persons, attending incidents of suspicious circumstances, road traffic collisions, welfare checks and joint intelligence gathering exercises.

Those who have carried out the pilot have improved their understanding of how each organisation operates and have benefited from having a wider view of the world. Police Constables are now welcomed at Fire Stations across our county and vice-a-versa with the pilot significantly helping to change perceptions the two services had of each other.

Perhaps, the best thing, however, about the Rural Intervention Vehicle (RIV) pilot is the fact that these responding solutions and preventative activities came from the bottom up. The operatives themselves determined the types of incidents they thought they were capable of responding to and were also responsible for developing how best to engage with their communities.

We never asked the operatives to do something they didn’t want to do, we empowered them, enabled them to make their own decisions about how best to collaborate by giving them the tools they needed, (the car and other equipment and other resources), to do their jobs and work more closely together should they wish to do so.

At no point has any of these programmes put the public at risk, in fact we believe that this interoperability programme between police and fire, and the co-responding the fire and rescue service carry out on behalf of the East Midlands Ambulance Service, has saved a significant number of lives, improved outcomes and prevented a further drain on the emergency services resources.

The Fire Brigade Union and others have vehemently opposed the transfer of governance to PCCs on the grounds that the service will be damaged by its further association with the Police. They hide behind the façade that the public see the two services completely differently and react to them differently because the Police are seen as enforcers and the Fire Service as the saviours and heroes of our local emergency services.

The reality is however, as we have seen in Northamptonshire, that when the two services do work more closely together from the bottom up, concerns over brand, identity, roles and responsibilities have failed to materialise.  In fact the Community Safety Manager in South Northamptonshire attributes a rise in public confidence to the increased visibility of both services in rural locations, due to the presence of the RIV and its operatives.

Instead of thinking in the interests of the people they are supposed to serve, these opponents to change simply fail to grasp the current challenge facing public services in the UK. They don’t like any form of change and don’t have the best interests of the customer at the heart of their opposition.

I would go further. I would state that people that oppose changes in governance and changes to these services do not even have the interests of their own services at the heart of their opposition.

Fire and Rescue Services simply cannot stand by and think that the world around them will change, whilst the way they have always done things will remain the same.

As Sir Ken Knight pointed out in his excellent review into the efficiency and effectiveness of Fire and Rescue Services, fires have fallen by 40 per cent over the last decade and yet the size, cost and number of personnel remains broadly the same. The Fire and Rescue Service needs reform if it is to be dragged into the 21st century, but it also needs to work much more collaboratively with the other emergency services to ensure its sustainability in the longer term.

In Northamptonshire, we have been fortunate to have a forward thinking fire and rescue service, where now 25 per cent of its overall demand comes from co-responding and they have pursued collaboration with policing, but they are still being cut again this year by the County Council in spite of all their good work.

I believe that under the Governance of PCCs the two services and potentially the ambulance service in the future, can work together much more effectively to resolve some of the most complex problems the three services face. We face a shortage of 3,000 paramedics nationally, a shortage and struggle to recruit firefighters and police special constables.  I believe we can make these services more of an attractive proposition if they are working much more closely together.

I believe that Northamptonshire will be a safer, more secure county by improving collaboration amongst services wherever it makes sense to do so.