A CONTROVERSIAL takeover of the running of the county’s fire service by Police and Crime Comissioner John Campion will be challenged in the courts by fire chiefs.
The move, by Hereford & Worcester Fire Authority (HWFA), echoes the one made by Shropshire & Wrekin Fire Authority last week and means both fire authorities in the West Mercia area will now challenge the decision, made by former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Ms Rudd rubber stamped John Campion’s plan to axe both the Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority and its sister group in Shropshire and bring their functions under his remit in a bid to save £4 million a year.
Mr Campion will assume the role of Commissioner for Police, Fire and Crime, holding the Chief Fire Officers for both forces to account, while West Mercia Police and the two fire and rescue services will remain separate, individual organisations.
The commissioner said his proposals for a single governance body would improve local police and fire collaboration and efficiency but his plans attracted a storm of criticism from county councillors and fire chiefs especially in Shropshire who claim they had already identified £2million of savings in the next financial year.
Fire authority chairman Coun Roger Phillips said members had thought carefully before joining the legal challenge.
“We believe it is in the public interest to challenge a process that has highlighted that a change in governance would not significantly improve the economy, effectiveness or efficiency of the service”.
“The current oversight arrangements of the service by the Fire Authority have been in place for over 20 years and have demonstrated themselves to have been proactive, diligent and forward-thinking.
“To change these arrangements without having the robust evidence to show it will significantly improve what the service is already doing is a big risk – as the upheaval in itself has a potentially damaging effect on both staff performance and morale”.
Whilst the legal challenge is progressing, Coun Phillips reassured both public and staff the service will continue to maintain its high standards at the same time as implementing its planned improvement and efficiency priorities, including those established collaboration projects and plans it has with both Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service and West Mercia Police.
In response, Mr Campion said: “Central governance in West Mercia can deliver more effective and efficient services for our communities, has been consistently supported by public consultation, independent assessment and by the government.
“This course of action will mean additional costs to the taxpayer and will delay benefits being delivered to local communities and emergency services alike.”