Take over of Hertfordshire fire service does not take public safety into account, say firefighters

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The police and crime commisioner’s “cut and shut” plans to take over the fire service been slammed by firefighters, at a public meeting in Hatfield.

Police and crime commissioner David Lloyd submitted the plan to take over governance of the Fire and Rescue Service from the County Council last year.

And those plans - which are being considered by the Home Office - include the closure or relocation of a number of fire stations, including Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.

On Thursday (August 2) firefighters told a public meeting that the “cost-cutting” plans to close fire stations failed to take public safety into account.

And they said that putting the service under the same umbrella as the police could impact on the way the public see their fire safety and community work.

Daren Scotchford, secretary of the Hertfordshire Fire Brigades Union, said the commisioner’s plans to close and relocate fire stations had been based on the distance, rather than risk.

And he said those plans should not have been drawn up without reference to a document known as the ‘IRMP’, which identifies long term issues, risks and other factors that need to be considered in future planning.

“It’s the public of this town who need to be able to scrutinise these plans,” he said. “They are your fire stations - they are your police stations.

“We are not here to cut and shut fire stations and police stations so it can cut the costs of these services without any account of whether its the right place for these resources to be.”

Meanwhile Hertfordshire FBU chairman Derek MacLeod said closure of fire stations would inevitably lead to longer response times.

“We have already seen the largest increase in response times of any Fire and Rescue Service n the UK,” he said.

“Closing a fire station in any community does nothing to shorten response times.”

Since the closure of the station at Radlett and Bushey, he said,  there was already a view that fewer fires were being contained within the room where they started.

He also suggested that taking the fire service away from Herts County Council was a step closer to a model where private companies - like Serco - could take over.

And he said the best thing Mr Lloyd could do would be to withdraw his application to the Home Office.

Addressing the public meeting, which was attended by more than 100 people, Hatfield Labour councillor Kieran Thorpe called on all Hertforshire MPs to oppose the plans.

He said that, post Grenfell, with increasingly congested and dangerous roads and with thousands of new homes expected across the borough this should not happen. And he called on people to show their opposition.

He said: “We oppose the takeover, by the police and crime commissioner – even if he wasn’t coming in with a ton of cuts, these are two very different services with different cultures.

“We oppose the closures of fire and police stations, be it by the police and crime commissioner, or by the county council.

“We oppose the cutbacks, by the police and crime commissioner, by the county council, or by the government

“And if they think we’re just going to sit there in silence while they continue to do this, we need to show them how wrong they are.”

Liberal Democrat county councillor Barbara Gibson, who was among those attending the public meeting, said the county council was unanimously opposed to the take-over.

She said her biggest objection was that instead of being scrutinised by 78 councillors the service would be under the control of just one commissioner.

And although the work of the commissioner is scrutinised by the police and crime panel, she said this was “not fit for purpose”.

Meanwhile police and crime commissioner David Lloyd has argued that bringing the fire and rescue service under the same umbrella as the county’s police force would cut costs and enable better joint working between emergency services.

He has said the ‘co-location’ plans - which involve stations in Welwyn, Hatfield, Buntingford, Hitchin and Bishop’s Stortford - would improve public safety.

And he stresses that no re-organisation would go-ahead until there had been a full feasibility study and public consultation.

Mr Lloyd was invited to attend the public meeting, held at Roe Hill Hall, in Hatfield. However he did not attend.