Catherine Levin
Catherine Levin breaks down the similarities in the challenges presently facing UK Police and Fire organisations, as well as indicating room for potential collaboration.

This week I’ve been struck by the parallels between police and fire. With my time split between following the Scottish Fire Symposium and the Police Federation conference, I found myself increasingly drawn into what’s happening in the police world. It’s not my usual stomping ground, but ignoring what’s happening in police is probably a bad idea right now.

Addressing the annual Police Federation conference is a hard gig for any politician. Whether it’s about crime statistics, police numbers or spit guards, there are a lot of tough topics for any politician to get right.

Brandon Lewis, Police and Fire Minister, spent a big part of his speech talking about the professionalisation of policing and its place in the police reform programme. “This focus on recognising and developing professionalism across policing is one that I care passionately about.” He linked this topic with standards and the work of the College of Policing.

He could have just as easily been talking about fire. In his speech at the REFORM event earlier this year, he talked about the same topic, confirming he was going to establish a Professional Standards Body for the fire and rescue service. And that’s happening; with the business case currently in development. Up in Scotland, delegates at the Scottish Fire Symposium had an entire session devoted to the topic of standards. It’s firmly on the fire agenda, that’s for sure (more on this in the June edition of FIRE).

He talked a bit about diversity, mostly in the context of diverse entry points into the police service rather than about the gender or ethnicity of recruits. The emphasis was different to the one you’d see in a discussion about diversity in the fire and rescue service.

Collaboration gets a mention. He talked about collaboration across police forces and in particular about the sharing of back office functions. That’s a standard fire topic but becoming a bit old hat as these functions are increasingly streamlined with fire and police coming together physically in places like Avon, Cheshire and Hampshire. It’s not that controversial.

Amber Rudd, speaking for the first time to the Police Federation as Home Secretary, used her speech to promote what the Conservatives will do over the next five years should they get back in on 8 June. She set out a new policy pledge. “If the Conservatives are re-elected we will go further and open up the very top jobs in policing so that we get the broadest possible skills and talent at the very top of our police forces.”

That’s a major change and with the potential for PCCs to take on governance of fire and rescue services we could see someone without a police or fire service background run a merged service as a single chief officer. Although just this week, both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have stated they will move away from the PCC model altogether.

So, it’s an interesting exercise, listening to ministers talking about police with ears normally tuned to fire. They aren’t that different after all. It’s proving useful having the same minister for police and fire; there’s a clear morphing of subject matter in many areas. Maybe we can start to see some joined up police and fire conferences, if only so that I don’t have to follow two at the same time!