Fire Services: Campaigning in Local Communities and Parliament

As one of our lead members at the Local Government Association, I have worked to ensure that our national campaigns are linked to what’s happening in local communities. There are a variety of ways to do this, but I hope this article is a helpful example.

In 2015, the Conservative Government launched a consultation on a ‘joined up’ approach to Police and Fire Services. Nationally, Fire Brigade Union General Secretary Matt Wrack, in January 2016, described the national proposal as a “half baked suggestion” and accused “one or two” PCCs supporting the plan of “empire building”. He told the BBC: “There’s very little evidence, there’s no research been carried out, there’s no support for it among firefighters and there’s no support for it among police officers, there’s no support among local communities and yet the government seems to be intent on forcing it though.”

Here in York and North Yorkshire, these proposals led to the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner spending more than £140,000 on consultants to prepare a business case on and unwanted takeover of the local fire service. We have campaigned in our communities for a fair deal for local Fire Service funding, but the unpopular takeover took place following Government agreement in November 2018.

In order to campaign locally and nationally, I worked with Liberal Democrat peers, including Baroness Kath Pinnock as our national communities and fire services spokesperson, and Baroness Angela Harris, to table a motion of regret in the House of Lords and issue press releases. This debate took place on the 21st November 2018, where peers were asked if they regretted the decision by the Government to agree the takeover of North Yorkshire Fire Authority, following other takeover examples nationally.

The motion read that: “this House regrets that the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (Fire and Rescue Authority) Order 2018 has been brought forward despite the constituent councils, the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and North Yorkshire Fire Authority being opposed to the proposals; further regrets that no detailed assessments have been undertaken by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office as to the impact of the proposals; and expresses serious concern that the proposals could severely impact on the fire services’ capacity to serve residents across York and North Yorkshire”.

Our communities and local authorities had already expressed serious concern that the proposals could severely impact on the fire services’ capacity to serve residents across our local area. This included all local political parties, North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, and the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. It was particularly disappointing to those of us locally, as the Government’s own independent assessment, albeit only undertaken by one organisation against the advice from the Local Government Association, even stated in conclusion that there “is an absence of quantified benefits in relation to any reduced costs of inputs” and that there was “no overwhelming case for change and that most of the proposed changes could be achieved under the other three options.

It was useful to table a motion of regret, as it allowed peers to discuss and raise concerns about Government policy and its impact not just on York and North Yorkshire, but equally, a variety of areas across the country, with a series of unpopular and unwanted fire service takeovers. Most importantly, it highlighted our dissent as Liberal Democrats with the ongoing Conservative ideological reduction of local democracy and the ability of locally elected councils to influence the areas they are elected to represent.

The national debate and press releases helped ensure much better press coverage for us than normal, with Baroness Pinnock appearing on regional television, radio and the local media. Local examples are be found here from the Yorkshire Post and here from the York Press.

I would welcome thoughts from readers if there are Fire Service national campaigns that we could be making more of in your local area.

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003 and for Fulford and Heslington Ward since 2015. Since 2019 he is the Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • John Marriott 24th Apr '19 - 4:32pm

    I’m not sure about the ideology; but combined Fire, Police and Ambulance Stations have been a feature in places like Lincolnshire for some time and seem to be accepted by all parties. It certainly makes sense to me. I tend to take with a large pinch of salt what the FBU comes out with. I remember the age of Andy Gilchrist, when the Union seemed intent on taking over the militant mantle from the NUM. Perhaps times have changed.

    As we all know, in these difficult times we have to make sure we get the maximum bang for our buck, as has happened with the library service, for example, here in Lincolnshire, where, by running Community Hub libraries with largely volunteers (in fact, I’ve been one since I retired from the County Council in 2017), as well as having 15 professionally run libraries, we now have more ‘libraries’ than when they were run exclusively by the County Council.

    If running a combined service is cost effective, what’s not to like? Trying to make a political point may not be what the public will always appreciate, even if it goes down well with the purists.

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