Tri-service Safety Officers: Devon and Cornwall

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 5 February 2024.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 7:53, 5 February 2024

Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend Steve Double on securing this evening’s Adjournment debate, which has come slightly earlier than we would normally expect. He has done a very good job of explaining the benefits of tri-service safety officers in Devon and Cornwall, who set an example that, as he said, the rest of the country can follow.

We in the Home Office are keen to see a lot more co-operation between blue light services; that is happening in some other parts of the country as well, but not in such an integrated way. In Humberside, Bedfordshire and the wider eastern region, fire and rescue services already work with the health service on dedicated falls and bariatric teams, helping the ambulance service to deal with incidents. In fact, in the year to September 2023, fire and rescue services in England attended 16,000 medical incidents, in addition to 34,000 incidents affecting entry or exit to premises, so there is some co-operation around the country already.

In our White Paper, we strongly encourage further co-operation between blue light services. As my hon. Friend said, in rural areas, where there is not such density of coverage, it makes a great deal of sense for police, ambulance and fire services to work together to provide a response. The tri-service safety officers in Devon and Cornwall, whom he described, are a shining example of how that can work in practice, benefiting residents the length and breadth of both counties. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in encouraging and supporting those tri-service safety officers.

I pay tribute to the fantastic police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, who has worked very hard to make this happen. The work of police and crime commissioners can really make a difference, as hers has. In parts of the country such as Essex and Staffordshire where we have police, fire and crime commissioners, this kind of co-operation between police and fire becomes quite a lot easier. I also pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Scott Mann, who is sitting next to me. He has campaigned successfully to reopen Bude community police station; it recently reopened, and has a tri-service safety officer based in it, for the benefit of all residents of Bude and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay said about value for money: each of the three services has to contribute only about £16,000 per TSSO, which is a great deal cheaper than funding a position each. I very much hope that the police and fire services in Devon and Cornwall will continue to fund that. I am sure that he is making the case, both to Health Ministers and to the local integrated care board, for that funding to continue. If he wants any assistance from me in lobbying my ministerial colleagues, he has only to ask, and I will be happy to do that, but I am sure that he and his colleagues in Devon and Cornwall are doing that.

I agree with my hon. Friend’s point that other rural forces in England and Wales could learn from what has been happening in Devon and Cornwall. That applies less to large urban areas, where police forces and ambulance services are already very densely concentrated. However, even in urban areas, the fire service tends to be under-used, so there is an opportunity to get the fire service to do more to assist the ambulance service in providing responses. I have been discussing that with my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care. However, as he eloquently described and explained, tri-service safety officers could work well in other rural or sparsely populated areas. Cumbria, which now has a police, fire and crime commissioner, springs to mind [Interruption.] I hear support for Cumbria from my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson. I will happily raise that point with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Fire Chiefs Council, and will commend the model for consideration by rural forces and fire services around the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay has set out the good work going on in Devon and Cornwall, and the positive impact of tri-service safety officers. Again, I commend police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez for making this happen. I will do everything I can to assist colleagues in Devon and Cornwall, and rural forces around the country, in making sure that as many places as possible can benefit from this excellent initiative.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.