The government has announced that the Home Office will take responsibility for the fire and rescue service from 1 April.
Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, will have responsibility for the portfolio becoming minister for policing, fire, criminal justice and victims. The government says the move will create greater collaboration between police and the fire service, which it hopes will lead to the creation of more blue light hubs and greater cost savings to the tax payer.
Penning is the fourth minister to have responsibility for the fire service in 18 months. Mark Francois only took up the post in May following the general election, succeeding Penny Mordaunt who had replaced Brandon Lewis in July 2014. Penning is a former firefighter for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and says he is looking forward to his new role.
‘As a former firefighter and now minister for policing, I know from first-hand experience how well the police and fire service can work together,’ said Penning. ‘We believe that better joint working can strengthen the emergency services and deliver significant savings and benefits for the public. This is about smarter working, reducing the cost of back office functions and freeing up the time of front-line staff.
‘We are demonstrating at national level what we are asking emergency services to do at local level. As the minister responsible for both fire and policing, I will be looking to ensure that both services learn from best practice, wherever it is found.
‘I’d like to record my admiration for the work of fire and rescue services. That work is of course particularly visible at times such as these, when many services are playing such a crucial role in the response to flooding; but I know the commitment and dedication of all fire and rescue staff is there day in day out, making their communities safer places for everyone.
‘This move will have benefits for both services. Fire authorities can learn from the journey that police forces have undertaken on reform over the last five years. Equally, the success of fire and rescue services in prevention holds important lessons for the police.’
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has met the news with scepticism saying it fears this will lead to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) assuming responsibility for the fire and rescue service. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘This move doesn’t allay any of our fears and concerns about PCCs taking over the running of the fire and rescue service, but it could provide an opportunity for the Home Office to show solid commitment to stopping the service being further dismantled.
‘DCLG has washed its hands of public safety by cutting the fire and rescue service to the bone, and it hasn’t listened to any of the stakeholders or experts including the FBU. This has to change under the Home Office.
‘We are sceptical based on our experience of this government so far, but we are hoping very much to see improved funding for national risks such as flooding and terrorism, which would see improvements to resilience.
‘We have always agreed with close collaboration with other emergency services, but we remain concerned that the takeover of our service by PCCs will mean a loss of our independence and a threat to the professionalism of firefighters. We will seek assurances from the new minister that the distinct nature of our work will continue be recognised under future arrangements.’
FPA managing director Jon O’Neill believes the announcement could prove positive, he said: ‘In view of the continued importance of resilience and business continuity we welcome this news. This is not the first time the Home Office has had responsibility for the fire and rescue service so I look forward to working with them again. I’d also like to extend my congratulations to Mike Penning for being named the minister responsible for fire.’