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Home Office minister Mike Penning has announced that, following a public consultation, the government plans to give police and crime commissioners the power to take responsibility for fire and rescue services.
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The government also aims to introduce a statutory duty for blue light services to collaborate and improve their efficiency.
“The government will ensure the duty is broad to allow local discretion over how it is best implemented for the benefit of local communities,” the Home Office said.
When the Home Office took over control of fire and rescue policy in England at the beginning of the year, it promised a “radical transformation” of how the services operate.
Penning said that better joint working could strengthen the emergency services and deliver savings.
“This is about smarter working,” he said. “It simply doesn’t make sense for emergency services to have different premises, different back offices and different IT systems when their work is so closely related and they often share the same boundaries.”
Last year, prime minister David Cameron said that the government would legislate to combine back-office processes, IT and procurement across police, fire and ambulance services.
The idea first surfaced with former fire minister Brandon Lewis, who said in March 2014 that the blue light services needed to collaborate on procurement and to share services; it cropped up again in September 2014, with home secretary Theresa May declaring that the service needs to be “integrated” to reduce spending.
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Some services are already collaborating. In Kent, police and fire and rescue services use a joint communications and control system from Sopra Steria, while in Merseyside, fire and police services launched a joint command and control centre in 2014.
However, police and fire services alike have struggled with large IT projects. In 2010, the government shelved its costly FiReControl project, which aimed to replace the 46 emergency response centres with nine regional centres equipped with new technology. The project, which began in 2004, was scrapped in 2010 due to a lack of IT and procurement skills after spending £225m.
In London, the Metropolitan Police was forced to stick with its 30-year-old command and control system, signing a three-year extension after failing to go live with a new system as planned.