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Is collaboration the future for the emergency services?

The government has recently published a consultation entitled ‘Enabling closer working between the Emergency Services’ in which it sets out its proposals for increasing collaboration.

Collaboration between the emergency services is not in itself a new concept. In fact, some collaboration already exists between the emergency services in some counties. But the consultation goes much further than the collaboration already being undertaken. 

Below we set out what types of collaboration are already being undertaken, the main recommendations of the consultation and the issues with the proposal that are already being raised. We also outline the key considerations for emergency services should they decide, or be required, to collaborate.

Current collaboration

Some emergency services are already joining forces with each other and/or other public sector bodies in order to gain efficiencies, reduce costs and to provide a better service to the public.

For example, the police and fire services in Northamptonshire launched a joint response vehicle to provide additional support to rural communities as part of an ongoing collaborative relationship. 

Other examples of current emergency services collaboration include:

  • joint police and fire services communication centres;
  • sharing of premises;
  • joint vehicle workshops;
  • integrated IT solutions to transfer information; and
  • sharing of HR, occupational health, finance, payroll and procurement services.

Some police forces are also exploring opportunities to collaborate with local councils when developing their property estates. TLT is monitoring these types of collaborations closely and will be reporting on their development in due course.

What are the key proposals?

The collaboration initiatives mentioned above are voluntary and are being driven forward by those running the emergency services in those particular areas. 

The consultation takes this one step further and proposes that there should be a duty imposed on all three emergency services to collaborate where it would "drive efficiency and effectiveness".

In addition to this duty to collaborate, the government proposes that:

  • where appropriate, locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) should take over the responsibility for running the fire and rescue authorities in their areas;
  • where a PCC has become responsible for both police and fire services in their area, the organisations should be merged to create a single employer for both of the services, which will produce back office and management efficiencies;
  • where a PCC has not become responsible for both police and fire services in their area, the PCC shall be represented on the local fire and rescue authority's board; and
  • the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority should be abolished and the Mayor of London given the additional direct responsibility for fire services in Greater London, similar to the model of the Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime (a similar project to also be undertaken in Greater Manchester).

The general view of the consultation seems to be that PCCs have been a great success since their introduction in 2012 and would be best placed to take over the leadership of fire services from the fire and rescue authorities. This would be done by merging the fire services in their areas with the police services that the PCC already governs. Such an arrangement is not possible under current legislation and therefore the consultation proposes to introduce new legislation enabling PCCs to take over the responsibility of fire services where it is in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety.

The consultation does not specifically set out how economy, efficiency, effectiveness and public safety should be measured - this may be a topic for debate during the consultation process. It does suggest, however, that the process for deciding whether a PCC should take over the responsibilities of a fire and rescue authority should be in-line with the current process of deciding whether fire and rescue authorities should merge with neighbouring fire and rescue authorities. 

The government further proposes that once a new combined police and fire service is created under the governance of a PCC, a new position of Chief Officer should be created. The Chief Officer would have responsibility for both the police and fire services and would report into the PCC. This Chief Officer would have to have a rank of Chief Constable but the position would be open to current Fire Chiefs (who will not be required to have been a constable) on the premise that they undertake relevant training at the College of Policing.

Chief Officer concerns

The prospect of collaboration between emergency services splits opinions. The process for and the rationale behind bringing both the police and fire services under the remit of a PCC will no doubt be scrutinised and debated in detail over the coming months. However, the commentary that has already appeared in the wake of the consultation suggests that the most contentious element of the proposals is the introduction of the role of Chief Officer for each newly merged police and fire service.

Commentators from both sides have raised concerns. These comments mainly focus on the perceived issue that whoever gets the job will not have any first hand experience of one of the services they are managing as they will have either been a Chief Constable or a Fire Chief. This is a justifiable argument and the consultation has foreseen and tried to mitigate this issue with the proposed introduction of Senior Fire Officer and Deputy Chief Constable positions. These individuals will manage their respective service and report into the Chief Officer, with the aim of creating a streamlined structure of management and accountability.

If this Chief Officer proposal becomes law, it will be imperative for senior personnel who are implementing a merger of police and fire services to be open and transparent about their choice of Chief Officer. It is likely to be a contentious issue and will need to be managed carefully to ensure that the newly merged police and fire services start on the right footing in order to take advantage of the benefits of the collaboration from the outset.

Collaboration with ambulance services

The consultation focuses heavily on collaboration between the police and fire services. With regards to collaboration with ambulance services, the consultation suggests that, other than the proposed overarching duty to collaborate as mentioned above, the police and fire services will be free to collaborate with ambulance services as they see fit; however, the NHS foundation trusts that are responsible for the ambulance services should consider whether to have a PCC representative on their Council of Governors.

Key considerations for collaboration

Whether some, or all, of the proposals make their way into law, it looks as though the principle of collaboration is here to stay. This means emergency services will increasingly be considering, or entering into, collaborations with other emergency services or public bodies in the future. These emergency services will need to think carefully about how they practically implement their collaboration plans.

Some key considerations are:

  • the level of investment and commitment required by each party and how benefits will be shared equitably in light of that input;
  • in a shared services context, how the supplier will be most effectively managed in a multi-customer environment and whether authority to manage the collaboration should be delegated to one customer with appropriate controls;
  • ensuring that adequate resources are dedicated to the transformation process to ensure that deliverables are provided on time and that all parties are co-ordinated in their approach;
  • considering how risk will be apportioned between the parties to achieve best value for all; and
  • managing internal communications in a sensitive and pro-active way to minimise disruption and negative impact on staff morale. 

What next?

Collaboration between emergency services is not new and, whether in the current voluntary format or by way of new legislation, it is most definitely here to stay.

There will be a significant amount of commentary and debate around the proposals but, in any event, emergency services will need to become comfortable with the idea of collaboration. Even without the proposed legislation, collaboration is a sensible option in light of continued budget cuts.

Should the proposals be implemented as currently drafted there will be a number of further considerations for emergency services; in particular the morale of employees and the concerns of the public in relation to senior management lacking on-the-job experience of at least one of the emergency services they will be managing.

Forces that wish to input into the consultation have until 23 October 2015 to do so.

At TLT we are experienced in advising public sector clients, including police forces, on a variety of legal and regulatory issues. Should you wish to discuss how effective collaboration between emergency services can be achieved or would like assistance with responding to the consultation please contact Alison Deighton on alison.deighton@TLTsolicitors.com or +44 (0)333 006 0160 or Bill Hull on bill.hull@TLTsolicitors.com or +44 (0)333 006 0321.

Contributor: Oliver Bell

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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