(Title Image: Wales Online)
Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) today launched a White Paper outlining proposed reforms to how the three fire services in Wales are governed (pdf).
The main proposal – subject to consultation – is that each local authority nominates a single councillor to be a member of their respective fire authority, along with 7 non-executive members appointed by the Welsh Government; this would reduce the number of fire authority members from 77 to 29. The White Paper also proposes that local authority members must be a council cabinet member, not a backbench councillor.
The White Paper also proposes that each fire service negotiate directly with the respective councils for budget contributions.
The White Paper rules out creating a single national fire service (as in Scotland), transferring control of fire services to councils and transferring control of fire authorities to the (directly-elected) Police & Crime Commissioners. The proposals also won’t impact the number of firefighters, stations, training or fire engines.
Realising the potential to do more
In his statement to AMs, the Public Services Secretary said governance and funding arrangements, in light of the new challenges facing fire services, weren’t fit for purpose.
“The current governance and funding arrangements are not fit for this new purpose. They mean the service is run by what are, in effect, large committees at arm’s length from all other local services and without any kind of direct democratic mandate. There isn’t any real public debate or accountability about what the service does or ought to do, and insufficient engagement tools to respond to changing local needs. Yet such debate and such accountability have never been more important.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies
Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) questioned the evidence base for reform:
“How do you respond to the statement (from current members of fire authorities) that several queried the lack of clear evidence and rationale for reform, feeling that perceived problems with the current system had not been clearly identified, making it difficult for them to estimate the added value that might be gained through any change, to the statement that some of them raised concern about changing a system that operates well and, quote, ‘breaking a system which is not broken’.”
– Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM
In reply, the Secretary said it was a White Paper and subject to consultation with the opportunity to propose alternatives beyond those which have been explicitly ruled out (as mentioned before).
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) told the chamber there was a far greater emphasis on prevention by the fire service, but he called for consistency in terms of the “999 services” and asked whether consistency of boundaries and funding for the fire, ambulance and police services would help co-working between them?
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) later echoed this by saying Mid & West Wales fire service “made no sense” geographically.
The Secretary wanted to maintain “locally-accountable” fire services and saw no reason why the proposed reforms would prevent the continuation of co-working (i.e. where different emergency services are located on the same site). He did, however, say he wasn’t “closing the door” on possible boundary changes – but the case is yet to be made.