Should Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner be in charge of the fire service too?

PUBLISHED: 12:06 21 December 2016

Brandon Lewis MP outside his new constituency office in Church Plain, Great Yarmouth

Picture: James Bass

Brandon Lewis MP outside his new constituency office in Church Plain, Great Yarmouth Picture: James Bass

Crime commissioners will not be compelled to take on responsibility for the fire service – but it is the “direction of travel”, Brandon Lewis has said.

Brandon Lewis and his new job

Since arriving in parliament in 2010, Brandon Lewis has enjoyed successive promotions.

The Great Yarmouth MP was tipped to be given a seat in the cabinet – both under David Cameron, and then under Theresa May.

While he didn’t quite make it to the top table after he was an early backer of Mrs May in her leadership campaign, and subsequently helping to run her short campaign, he is believed to be one of, if not the first, in to see Mrs May after she had shaped her cabinet,

“It is a fascinating job – a really good portfolio,” he said.

He said he was aware of the interest in his brief by the prime minister because it was her former departmnet.

“They are big shoes to fill, but there is also an exciting reform programme to see through and deliver,” he said.

The Home Office inevitably will be involved with European Union collaberation, and Mr Lewis has already been to Brussels. Questioned about Brexit negotiations, he said: “We are very early days, we are not going to give a running commentary.”

But he cited home secretary Amber Rudd’s claim that ”nobody voted to be less safe”. “We need to get right security arrangements,” he said.

Over the coming months with the Police and Crime Bill on the agenda he will be liaising with Number 10.

“My experience of the prime minister is she is brilliant to work with. That is my experience of the last six months,” he added.

In his new role as a Home Office minister, Great Yarmouth MP will take a new law through parliament next year which will give police commissioners such as Lorne Green the power to take over the fire service.

As well as a statutory duty for emergency services to collaborate, the Police and Crime Bill will give crime commissioners the power to increase their remit. But Mr Lewis said that fire and police funding would remain separate.

He said that while there would be a separate fire and police service, the new power would give clear accountability and transparency over where political leadership was.

“With all the love in the world I doubt there is anybody who will read the EDP or any other newspaper who could name the members of their fire authority.

“But most people realise they have a PCC and that PCC, whoever they may be, has got a responsibilty for the police.”

He said police and fire panels would be created to be reflective of the two services.

But he said the move had to be locally driven. “We are not mandating this, but the journey of travel is pretty clear,” he added.

He said they wanted it to be a local decision because it would mean there was a “buy-in”, and he said the government also recognised different parts of the country had different models. “Norfolk is quite a good example. There are contemporaneous boundaries for police and fire. There is quite a good logic in bringing them together. There are complications – the fire service is part of the county council so efficiency-wise you may well argue that they are pretty efficient anyway. They are sharing an office and are part of county council administratively – they are a pretty lean force anyway.

“In other parts of the country you have contemporaneous boundaries with a standalone fire authority, a standalone police and there is an awful lot of opportunity there.”

The new powers come after Norfolk councils rejected the government offer of devolution and an elected mayor.

But Mr Lewis said it would be up to the crime commissioner to build partnerships and put forward a local case that worked. He said that the police and crime commissioner could still put in a bid, even without the support of the fire authority and it would be up to the other parties to say why they didn’t want to do it, with the Home Office making a decision after an independent review of the business plan.

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