Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston not ruling out single ‘blue light’ service for Essex

Essex's Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston.

Essex's Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston. - Credit: Archant

ESSEX’S crime tsar has not ruled out a single ‘blue light’ service for the county as public sector budgets come under pressure.

Police and crime commissioner (PCC) Nick Alston said merging the county’s police, fire and ambulance services was a possibility “in the longer term” – with operational co-operation one of the options.

The Government is looking at the future shape of emergency services in the wake of the Knight Review into fire and rescue services, which recommended crews shared stations with police and ambulance ‘blue light’ operations.

There are also reports that Home Secretary Theresa May has instructed her officials to draw up plans to merge the blue light services and place them under the single control of the newly-created police commissioners.

Speaking exclusively to the Reporter, Mr Alston said he believed discussions of a possible merger were more likely to come to a head in his second term of office, if re-elected. “I completely understand why the Government is looking at this and there is a compelling logic behind looking at ways to save public money,” he said.

“We have got to be more efficient and certainly joining up with the fire service would seem a realistic proposition.

“I could see that happening but I think the ambulance trust, from a health provision and organisational perspective, would be more of a challenge and a longer term ambition.”

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Asked whether the Government was likely to put pressure on PCCs to take on the challenge of merging emergency services, Mr Alston replied: “Clearly the Government is putting pressure on how public money is spent, and so they should, but I would be very surprised if they put pressure on this.

“There are areas in the country where police and fire services have merged and if these examples work really well then I’m sure the Government would be keener on the idea, as would I. The ambulance service is more complicated.

“I think the issue is a second term discussion but I would be up for it, if it means delivering better services for the people of Essex.”

It was met with dismay by the former chairman of the Essex Police Authority.

Robert Chambers, who is also on the cabinet at Uttlesford District Council and a member of Essex Fire Authority, said any talk of an operational merger would be “a mistake”.

“I’m very much in favour of the police, fire and ambulances services saving money by sharing sites, especially as has been talked about in Saffron Walden – which I seriously think is going to happen – but merging operations would not be a good idea,” he said.

“That is not the way to go about saving money. In fact, I think it would be a major disaster – there is no way merging them would work.”

At last month’s spending review the Government announced a £50million pot for PCCs to innovate, which will be available next financial year.

Giving PCCs control of all the emergency services would be a controversial move and would require changes to legislation.

The Government is expected to provide a response to the Knight Review and provide more details in the autumn.