On Tuesday lunchtime in Parliament, the Home Secretary was in the House of Commons, responding to a series of questions on different subjects. One of the questions that came up from two Tory MPs on the theme “Police and Fire Services: Collaboration” was “What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater collaboration between the police and fire services.” The two MPs then explained how their local Police and Crime Commissioner had either made savings or identified savings by bringing together the back office working of the Police and the Fire Service. There will be many examples from around the UK and indeed yesterday I was in the HQ of Sussex Police having a meeting with a senior Fire Officer and saw for myself how progress is being made in East Sussex. The examples given in Parliament were of a saving of £3.6M in Staffordshire and a potential £25M in Essex. The response from Hastings MP and Home Secretary Amber Rudd was “My hon. Friend is right. Where there is a strong business case and collaboration can improve outcomes and save money, which can then be used for the frontline, it should be encouraged. I welcome the good work that has been carried out to deliver just that.”
Few people would argue that saving money is a bad thing, particularly if it can enable society to use the savings to improve frontline services. Particularly at a time when our public services are facing huge challenges over funding. However as with the savings made in the cladding of Grenfell Tower and at least 120 other blocks across the UK, the savings will cost society an enormous sum, and have damaged the lives of more than 100 people. No one would argue that the forcing collaboration of public services will cost lives, however saving money as in the choice of building materials without consideration of the wider picture can be at best a distraction and at worst cost lives. The Police and Crime Commissioners were elected on a very clear focus, something that is in the name of their role. They are Police AND CRIME Commissioners. It was made clear at the outset that the bigger picture was not as a Blue Light Commissioner, but as someone who would bring together at a local level the Criminal Justice System and ensure that it became a System, not a raggedy disconnected set of agencies with no real coherence. The risk of that is that people will fall between the cracks and the gaping holes. The time it takes for victims and perpetrators of crime to progress through the CJS and the number of time and places where things go wrong at a local level is precisely why the PCC role could and should achieve so much for society. It will not save money in the short term, it will might even cost more money. However if it means that fewer people are part of a revolving door of crime, punishment, more crime which is entirely possible, that in the long term the savings will be enormous and will put the numbers of people impacted into the many thousands. In the end it will save lives, both in terms of the lives of the victims but also the lives of those who commit crimes and end up sitting in prison cells. The reason why I believe that PCC’s getting involved in the Fire Service is a bad thing, is that it will take the focus away from what they were actually elected to achieve.