Mike Penning 180Emergency services in England should share control rooms to improve their responses to 999 calls according to new legislation which will to allow Police and Crime Commissioners to take responsibility for their local fire service.

Following a public consultation, the Government has announced it will take forward legislation to enable PCCs to hold their local fire and rescue services to account. This is part of a raft of changes to bring about closer working between the police, fire and rescue and NHS ambulance services and improve the way they serve communities, protect the public and provide value for money for taxpayers.

In launching the legislation Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims, Mike Penning, said: "Strong leadership will be required to drive greater efficiencies and improved outcomes. Directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners are clearly accountable to the public and have a strong incentive to pursue ambitious reform and deliver value for money. We will enable them to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made.

"This is about smarter working. 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. The Government has already invested over £80 million in collaboration projects and local areas have shown the benefits of joint working between the emergency services - but there is more to be done and this legislation will enable that."

Having considered all the consultation responses, the Government will legislate to:
- Introduce a statutory duty to collaborate on all three emergency services, to improve their efficiency or effectiveness;
- Enable PCCs to take on the functions and duties of fire and rescue authorities, where a local case is made;
- Further enable PCCs to create a single employer for police and fire personnel where they take on the responsibilities of their local fire and rescue service, and where a local case is made;
- In areas where a PCC has not become responsible for fire and rescue, enabling them to have representation on their local fire and rescue authority with voting rights, where the fire and rescue authority agrees; and
- Abolish the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and give the Mayor of London direct responsibility for the fire and rescue service in London.

But the Fire Brigades Union and Police Federation branded the proposals “dangerous” and a “recipe for disaster" when first suggested.

Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has urged caution, warning that “police and fire services each have their own, professional specialisms – and we must not merge the services or change things purely as a cost-cutting exercise.”

"Officers from both emergency services already do pull together, working alongside week in, week out, as has been evidenced most recently by the appalling floods. But while joined-up emergency services are vital in many crisis situations, we vehemently oppose the prospect of police routinely fighting fires or fire personnel pounding the beat," he added.

"Government needs to realise that if done haphazardly, it would be a recipe for disaster. The services that all the emergency services provide can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why it is vital that any change is properly thought out. Failure is not an option."

Read the government response to the consultation in full here