Avon fire authority to be taken over by PCC
Avon Fire Authority has become the second authority to be taken over by the area’s police and crime commissioner (PCC).
Bristol Post reported on the decision by the Home Office to allow the PCC, Sue Mountstevens, to take over the authority’s governance, ‘after a damning government report criticised the management and culture’ of Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS). The ‘scathing’ report by the Home Office ‘highlighted a series of failures’ including ‘back-hand final salary payments, secret meetings’ and an ‘endemic’ bullying culture.
It was recently revealed that Essex would be the first fire and rescue service to come under the control of its local police and crime commissioner, though an Essex county councillor expressed his view that cuts in the county’s fire service were raising ‘major safety concerns’. A range of other PCCs around the country are in the process of ‘developing business cases or exploring options’ in terms of taking over fire and rescue governance.
These include Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire, while the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) recently shared its view that the first police and fire commissioner ‘will undermine fire service independence’. The Avon Fire Authority consists of 25 councillors from Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset, and it was ‘responsible for scrutinising the activities’ of AFRS.
This included approving its budget and appointing senior management board members, though Somerset county ‘falls under’ the responsibility of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue. All four councils met with Mrs Mountstevens to discuss the authority earlier this week. AFRS has not dropped ‘Avon’ from its name, the site added, ‘even though the county was disbanded more than 20 years ago’.
The Home Office report ‘laid much of the blame at the senior members’ within the service, including chief fire officer Kevin Pearson, but also ‘criticised the fire authority for failing to hold service staff to account’. An extraordinary general meeting of the authority will take place today, 27 July, at the AFRS headquarters.
The four councils’ statement read: ‘We’ve all seen the inspection report and it’s highly critical of the governance, leadership and the culture of Avon Fire Authority. We have also seen the response of the current Fire Authority, which we feel does not address the failings and therefore we are not convinced that the Fire Authority can fix itself.
‘As leaders, we have a responsibility to our residents to ensure that the issues identified in this report are put right. We believe this can only be done with a radical restructure. We will form a new reduced Fire Authority in line with the report’s recommendations with the police and crime commissioner.
‘We have not taken this decision lightly and it is one that we have come to in the interests of residents and the many hard-working and dedicated Avon Fire and Rescue Service officers and staff who deserve strong accountability, support and reassurance. We will be talking to the Home Office about our choices and seeking advice about future arrangements.’