Moved by Baroness Pinnock
That this House regrets that the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (Fire and Rescue Authority) Order 2018 has been brought forward despite the constituent councils, the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, and North Yorkshire Fire Authority being opposed to the proposals; further regrets that no detailed assessments have been undertaken by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office as to the impact of the proposals; and expresses serious concern that the proposals could severely impact on the fire services’ capacity to serve residents across York and North Yorkshire (SI 2018/970).
My Lords, the policy objective in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 was to enable police and crime commissioners to take over the control and oversight of fire authorities. The aim was to achieve greater collaboration and collocation of these two services which respond to emergencies. That objective is not challenged in this Motion; the means to achieve that outcome are, we contend, in the case of North Yorkshire, fundamentally flawed.
The North Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, Julia Mulligan, published a report in October 2016 in support of a single leadership model by the PCC for both police and fire services. A business case was developed to support the proposition, and this was assessed on behalf of the Home Office by CIPFA. The CIPFA report is revealing. It looked at the consultation undertaken by the PCC. Three models were proposed. These were labelled: “representation”, “governance”, and “single employer”.
From the outset, the consultation was skewed to get support for a PCC takeover. The public—who will be barely aware that a PCC exists and probably also not aware that the commissioner is a single elected politician —opted for the so-called governance model. Why was it not described as it is—that is, as a commissioner model? Was it deliberately or inadvertently designed to mislead? The CIPFA conclusion on this consultation was that the choice between a councillor-led representation model and a single elected politician governance model was a political issue outside of its remit.
The CIPFA report then proceeded to assess the PCC’s business case on the basis of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Currently the joint expenditure for the police and fire services in North Yorkshire is £169 million. On the measure of economy, which is minimising the cost of resources used, the CIPFA conclusion was that,
“there is an absence of quantified benefits”,
in relation to any reduced costs of these inputs.
On efficiency savings, the business case assessed that £660,000 at net present value can be saved per annum. This is achieved largely by joint appointments of senior staff and, crucially, includes one-off benefits of capital receipts from the sale of sites and buildings, which could well be achieved under the existing models. Of course, many smaller local authorities have used this route for so-called back-office savings for several years, and this has been done without compromising the status of the individual authorities. Indeed, the police and fire services in North Yorkshire have already been developing collaboration via a collaboration committee, which is already proving to be an effective way to secure improvements, with agreement by both services and without the disruption of a significant change in governance model. The overall CIPFA conclusion paints a more balanced picture, that efficiency savings lead to a net cost reduction per annum of a mere £36,000. Is it for this that the Home Office is allowing such upheaval?
On the effectiveness measure, the CIPFA assessment stated that,
“Proving a direct link between the governance model and effectiveness is a subjective process”,
but that, “On balance”, it,
“has the potential to have a positive impact”.
I contend that that is hardly a resounding endorsement. CIPFA concludes that,
“the Governance Model will be in the interests of efficiency. However, the savings directly attributable to the change are modest”.
That is understatement of the year.
It is therefore hardly surprising that all the constituent councils in North Yorkshire—the county council, the City of York Council, the North Yorkshire police and crime panel and the North Yorkshire fire and rescue authority—all opposed the takeover by the PCC. All political parties in North Yorkshire are of one mind on this, and the PCC, a Conservative politician, has completely failed to garner the support of any of her locally elected Conservative colleagues. The decision to move from a multi-member, multi-political party model to a single politician is an affront to local democracy.
Accountability is a further area of consideration that was not tested either in the PCC’s business case or, consequently, by the assessor. A police and crime panel scrutinises the PCC but has very limited powers to call the PCC to account for wrong—or even wrongful—decisions. It is the epitome of the toothless tiger. It can scrutinise the precept and the PCC’s policing plan, but that is about it. Even where there are challenges to PCC decision-making, there are no means of redress. Public accountability for funds raised through taxation ought not to be regarded in such a frivolous fashion. When poor decisions are made, where will the public look for answers and accountability? It is risible to claim that the election of a PCC every four years—an election that excited a mere 22% of the electorate in North Yorkshire in 2016—is evidence of democratic accountability.
The geography of North Yorkshire has not been mentioned once in any of the reports I have read. The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales are indeed glorious, but transport across those moors and rolling landscapes is not easy. The geography demands more service points than the PCC business case assumes.
In the conclusion to the report, the government assessor stated that “modest savings” could be achieved by the proposal. The report was too kind; meagre savings is a more accurate description. The impact on vital public services has, astonishingly, not been assessed. Savings, even under the heading of efficiency and effectiveness, can have a cost. That cost has been completely ignored in an unseemly grab for power. Politicians reject it. The business case offers only modest savings and efficiencies. The impact on vital public services has been ignored. I ask the Government to reconsider the decision. I certainly regret it. I beg to move.
My Lords, my contribution to this regret Motion will necessarily be rather more targeted, as the area in question is my area of North Yorkshire, the largest single rural county in England. I was a county councillor there for 20 years and chaired its police authority for a number of those.
The Minister certainly knows my firm opposition to the introduction of police and crime commissioners. Indeed, some of your Lordships will recall that, with help from many of your Lordships, I defeated the coalition Government’s proposal—one of David Cameron’s ideas—to bring in a single police commissioner in place of the 17 or 19 members of police authorities. As we see, it was a pyrrhic victory. Nevertheless, the concerns many of us from across the House expressed have been well and truly realised across the country, not least in North Yorkshire.
Our PCC has been embroiled in an unseemly and unprofessional case of bullying some of her members of staff. She was hauled before her police and crime panel, which did a superb forensic job of getting to the bottom of the complaints and asking her to consider her behaviour. I am told her response to them was arrogant in the extreme: she denied the complaints and then tried to complain about the way she had been treated by the panel. She was found guilty of bullying behaviour, and I understand more complaints are in the pipeline.
This is a PCC who wanted to put a new police headquarters on a piece of land in the middle of a field in a small rural village. This is a PCC who auctioned off the contents of silver cabinets and much else from the old police headquarters without first asking if former officers would like to bid on any of the contents, in which many of them had a particular—and, in some cases, personal—interest. This is remembered with much anger and bitterness.
She treats people who disagree with her with utter contempt. She certainly treats members of the PCP like that. It does not stop there. All the local political parties in North Yorkshire, as we have heard from my noble friend, were opposed to her taking on the running of the fire and rescue authority. No one I have spoken to thinks she is a fit and proper person to undertake such a responsibility. The fire and rescue service in North Yorkshire certainly does not want it, but that has now been foisted on it by government decree. All the consultation the PCC says she has undertaken to establish her business case went by the board. She took absolutely no notice of anyone.
Our fire and rescue authority was not underperforming in any way. Indeed, I was a member of it many years ago, and there was always a good collaborative working relationship between partner agencies. Why should the PCC want to take it over? It was running perfectly well. She says she can save a lot of money by doing so. The report in the Press in York says that she is already, just a few days into her new job, contemplating slashing the fire service. She claims the independent report she received said that the service was in an unsustainable financial position and that she would have to identify savings and set an emergency budget. She says that, as North Yorkshire’s PCC, she has saved thousands of pounds since taking over from the old police authority. I find this hard to believe. When I helped set up our first police authority in North Yorkshire, we had a clerk, a secretary and a clerical assistant. She has at least 14 members of staff. I cannot imagine that her wage bill is less than mine was, even accounting for the remuneration of police authority members.
Indeed, it appears that she has led North Yorkshire Police into its worst financial crisis since the millennium. There is a £10 million shortfall this financial year, which may come as a surprise to the people of North Yorkshire as there has been no public acknowledgement of this gathering storm. It is strange to compare that with how widely her takeover of the fire service has been publicised. She promises a proper, transparent plan for dealing with this. I wish her luck with the Fire Brigades Union.
Unfortunately, it is the Government’s idealistic policy that has brought us to this point. No proper scrutiny by anyone with any experience or knowledge of the fire and rescue service was brought in to assess her business case. The CIPFA report even acknowledged that there was no overwhelming case for change, yet the Government decided to back this politically ambitious woman, who has absolutely no experience of the fire and rescue service.
York, which has world heritage status, is fearful that some of the PCC’s proposals for saving money will reduce even further the funding of the fire and rescue service. Local councillors, who know their area best and who would have had input into any suggested changes to fire service provision, will have no say whatever from now on. York already suffers from being among the worst funded places in the country for public services, per resident, so their concerns are well justified.
Can the Minister tell me what contingencies will be put in place if all does not go according to plan and there is a major fire in the county? She will remember the devastating fire which engulfed part of the glorious York Minster some years ago. It was noted worldwide, such is the importance of that historic building. Indeed, all North Yorkshire firemen who helped to put out the fire on that fateful morning received a specially struck St William’s Cross for their bravery in tackling the blaze, and they are still worn on their ceremonial uniforms to this day. Reducing the number of engines and personnel in the fire and rescue service will do nothing to assuage the concerns of the people of York, who also rely heavily on them to deal with the severe flooding that York suffers from regularly.
In conclusion, I am very concerned that the PCC for North Yorkshire has been allowed to take over the fire and rescue service while still having further charges of bullying brought against her. The Minister, in an Answer to a Written Question about the police and crime panel’s power to hold the PCC to account, which I am grateful for, simply stated:
“Police and Crime Panels have the appropriate powers to effectively scrutinise the actions and decisions of Police and Crime Commissioners and enable the public to make an informed decision when voting”.
Well, the PCP did, but it has absolutely no power to hold the PCC to account or to correct her if necessary. It can do barely more than disagree with her. PCPs need proper teeth, as we urged the Government to give them during the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill back in 2011. PCCs can get rid of chief constables on a whim, it seems; no one can get rid of a PCC except the electorate, and they have to wait for an election to do so.
Therefore, I again ask the Minister: when will the Home Office give police and crime panels enough power to hold PCCs properly to account for their behaviour and, further, enable them to enforce any recommendations they might have? Until this PCC can understand that leadership means listening to people and taking them with her, rather than bullying them, she is not suitable to hold such a vital office.
My Lords, it is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. However, I am slightly concerned that the reputation that I may have in your Lordships’ House of sometimes being rather blunt and trenchant will be sidelined by what the noble Baroness has just said.
I am not going to talk about North Yorkshire at all—I appreciate that that is perhaps not in the spirit of this debate—but I want to pick up just one point from what the noble Baroness has said. When police and crime panels were set up as a sort of safety net in respect of police and crime commissioners, they were very much a governmental afterthought. Very little thought was given to their composition or how they could be made effective, or indeed to the powers they might have. After six or seven years, now might be a good time for the Government to review the role of police and crime panels, how they might be made more effective and useful, and how they might effectively hold police and crime commissioners to account.
However, my reason for speaking in this short debate—I will do so fairly briefly—is to ask some questions about Home Office policy on police and fire mergers. The Home Office was extremely enthusiastic about this at first, but I get the sense that Ministers have rather gone off the idea: it is proving to be rather more complicated and is not demonstrating quite the benefits that they had hoped for. Therefore, I wonder whether the police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire is not being hung out to dry on this issue, in that she no longer has quite the same enthusiastic support and facilitation that the Home Office might offer to make this policy work. I would be grateful if the Minister told us whether the Government’s commitment is still as intense as it was when this power to bring together police and fire was first introduced.
While she is answering that question, perhaps the Minister can tell me where we are with the role of police and crime commissioners in the areas they represent and the wider criminal justice organisation. Areas of synergy between the police and fire services are rather limited. There are a few, although not quite as many as people think; it is not just that people wear a uniform and go out and help people. There are far more synergies between the policing role in a local area—particularly in relation to the objective of reducing crime—and some of the other criminal justice responsibilities. For example, bringing together responsibility for oversight of the police and responsibility for oversight of the probation services—in particular, the monitoring of ex-offenders and those who have been through the courts—might produce far more savings for the country at large and the criminal justice system as a whole.
I wonder where the Government’s thinking is on that. If I remember correctly, there was a clause that said rather vaguely that this could be looked at at some stage in the future, but the Ministry of Justice was not very keen, so it did not get any real teeth in the original legislation. However, the Home Office ought to be directing its attention to delivering real savings, to turning people away from crime and to reducing the crime figures. I would be very interested in knowing what the current Home Office policy is on that matter.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend Lady Pinnock. The whole reason for establishing police and crime commissioners was supposed to be to increase the democratic accountability of the police service. In fact, as we have heard, the only way that PCCs can effectively be held to account is through the ballot box, and then only at four-yearly intervals. As we know, in most parts of the country, votes for the PCC are usually cast along established party-political lines and are not a referendum on the performance of the PCC at all.
As my noble friend Lady Pinnock said, police and crime panels, allegedly designed to hold police and crime commissioners to account, are in fact a toothless Singapura, let alone a toothless tiger, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said. My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond provided an example from North Yorkshire of how powerless the panels are.
This supposed increase in local democratic accountability of the police is being extended so that PCCs can take over fire and rescue services—something that we on these Benches opposed when the legislation came before this House. PCCs already have a very big job on their hands, being responsible not only for the delivery of policing services in their area but for commissioning and co-ordinating other services to reduce crime and disorder. The Government may be in denial about it, but the level of crime and disorder is increasing, and violent crime in particular is reaching alarming levels across the country. PCCs already have enough on their plate.
This so-called experiment in local democracy can result, as it has here, in local democratically elected representatives of all parties—who have wider responsibility for the delivery of local services, not just the police service, and have the “big picture” in terms of their local areas and the funding of all local services—being totally ignored. The very body that is supposed to hold the local PCC to account also opposes what this PCC proposes to do. How can the Government maintain that the PCC taking over the fire and rescue service in North Yorkshire is in the best interests of local people when the benefits are questionable, or meagre, as my noble friend said, and the constituent councils in North Yorkshire—the county council, City of York Council, the North Yorkshire police and crime panel and the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority—all oppose this move?
Whether it is the police service or the fire and rescue service, multi-party, multi-member authorities will always be able to take a more balanced, more accountable and more democratic approach than a sole individual, who, among other things, can raise the police precept locally without any consideration of the overall burden on local council tax payers and without taking any account of other pressing local priorities. The economic, efficiency and effectiveness benefits can nearly always be secured by the emergency services working more collaboratively without the PCC taking over control of the fire and rescue service. This is all pain and no gain. This move is very much to be regretted.
My Lords, we agree with the terms of the regret Motion. I do not wish to make any specific comments about the police and crime commissioner concerned since I know nothing about the police and crime commissioner in that area. Suffice it to say that my information too, not surprisingly, is that the North Yorkshire police and crime panel has rejected proposals for the commissioner to take on responsibility for both the fire service and the police—or at least what at that time were proposals—and that the panel had urged the commissioner to reconsider what she was seeking in favour of a model that would retain the current fire authority and give the commissioner a voting place at the table. Likewise, as has already been said most eloquently, the local authorities and the fire and rescue authority expressed a clear preference for the representation model. Indeed, the information that I have received—to put it diplomatically—is that the police and crime panel has a difference of view with the police and crime commissioner over the running of her office in relation to issues of bullying and a hostile environment.
I make no comment on the rights or wrongs of it because I personally know nothing about it. I was told that the police and crime panel intended to write to the Home Office to highlight its concerns. I do not know whether it has done so or whether the Home Office has received any such letter. Clearly there is not a very happy relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel in North Yorkshire. One would have thought that, to get to the bottom of it, the Secretary of State would have wanted to know rather more than perhaps he does about working relationships between the two organisations, since that surely must be a consideration in whether you are going to extend the power and authority of the police and crime commissioner. Maybe the Minister will tell us that the Home Secretary has already done that, and that he is satisfied that the police and crime commissioner is in the right and that the police and crime panel has got the wrong end of the stick; I will wait and see what the Minister has to say on that.
I refer to the independent assessment on which the judgment was made that the criteria of economy, efficiency and effectiveness have been met, and indeed of public safety. On economy, in the section headed “Our Overall Assessment”, the report says:
“Our overall view on economy is that it has received little attention in the LBC”— the local business case—
“and there is an absence of quantified benefits in relation to any reduced costs of inputs”.
Later in the paragraph, having referred to other issues, it goes on to say:
“On that basis we are unable to reach an objective conclusion on whether the proposal will meet the specific criterion of increased economy”.
Then, looking at the issue of efficiency, the independent assessment says:
“As we noted above nearly all of the savings in the LBC arise from efficiency savings”.
I am not reading out the full paragraph, but it states that:
“The only savings which can be attributed directly to the Governance model are those arising from changes in the structure of the OPCC and the FRA”— the office of the police and crime commissioner and the fire and rescue authority—
“i.e. those savings referred to as Direct Governance Benefit”,
in the local business plan.
As has already been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the report goes on to say that:
“This leads to a net cost reduction of £36K p.a. from 2019/20 or a total of £204K, net of implementation costs, over the 10 year period of the LBC”.
As has already been said, the independent assessment says:
“However, the savings directly attributable to the change are modest”.
That is probably one of the understatements of the year, if you are talking about savings as low as that; and it is based on the figures that have been put forward by the police and crime commissioner and the assumptions being made proving to be correct.
Turning to effectiveness, the report says:
“Proving a direct link between the governance model”— which is what the police and crime commissioner wants—
“and effectiveness is a subjective process”.
It ends—it is debatable whether you think this is an endorsement—by saying:
“On balance our view is that the proposed change in governance has the potential”—
I emphasise “potential”—
“to have a positive impact on effectiveness”.
In other words, the independent assessment could not produce the evidence that the change would have a positive impact on effectiveness; it would have only the potential to have a positive impact on effectiveness.
In the next paragraph—I am not reading out the whole paragraph—the assessment says:
“Having reached that conclusion we would add that there is no overwhelming case for change and that most of the proposed changes could be achieved under the other three options, subject to the willingness of all the stakeholders to work together”.
The assessors were also asked to comment, I think, on the issue of public safety, and their comment was,
“this is a very subjective area to assess”.
They concluded by saying:
“On that basis we have concluded that there is no increased risk to public safety due to the proposed change in governance”— that is a relief—
“and that there may be benefits in the future”.
If that is a ringing endorsement of the PCC’s plan, I think the Secretary of State has got it all wrong, because, as I understand it, it is on the basis of that independent assessment that he has agreed the proposal. Subject to what the Minister may say in response, he does not seem to have taken much account of working relationships—for example, the PCC’s relationship with her police and crime panel, and perhaps with other people as well, including her own staff.
In concluding, I simply say that if the independent assessment is deemed sufficient to meet the criteria of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, it is very unlikely that any future proposal from a PCC to take over a fire and rescue authority will ever be anything other than approved by this Secretary of State.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who secured it. As noble Lords will know, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 helps to make collaboration far more commonplace than it was hitherto. It placed a new duty on the police, fire and rescue and emergency ambulance services to keep collaboration opportunities under review and, where it is in the interest of their efficiency and effectiveness, to put those opportunities into practice. Let us not forget the rationale for a broad and non-prescriptive duty. It is for those with clear, local accountability to accelerate local emergency service collaboration.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Act also enables PCCs to take responsibility for the governance of fire and rescue services to drive that greater collaboration between policing and fire, which is what we are discussing this evening. Sir Ken Knight’s 2013 review of the fire and rescue service concluded that PCCs,
“could clarify accountability arrangements and ensure more direct visibility to the electorate”.
His findings were clear. The patchiness of collaboration across the country—I can attest to that myself—will not begin to change consistently without more joined-up and accountable leadership.
The directly accountable leadership of PCCs can play a critical role in securing better commissioning and delivery of emergency services at a local level. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for the work that he is doing to this end, and of course to Greater Manchester and the excellent work done in that area.
I have visited the police authority and seen the current PCC in action and I can certainly attest to the more visible model that PCCs represent. They are directly elected by the communities they serve, and it is the public who hold PCCs to account in the most powerful way—at the ballot box. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, questioned the visibility of the PCC but, even though I was on a police authority, I am not sure I could name every member. However, everyone in Greater Manchester knows the PCC.
Last month marked a year since the first police, fire and crime commissioner was established in Essex. Roger Hirst set out a raft measures—
I beg your pardon. I am sorry—I was making a point about visibility and I knew that the noble Lord would pick that up the moment I said it.
A public consultation on Roger Hirst’s fire and rescue plan, outlining the fire and rescue service’s priorities over the next five years, will soon go live. Staffordshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, is also beginning to make real headway. For instance, a shared occupational service is providing readily accessible mental health support for all police and fire staff. I know noble Lords will join me in commending such a worthwhile service.
Last week, we saw the third police, fire and crime commissioner established in North Yorkshire, which is the subject of this debate. I am grateful to all those who have taken part. I have listened very carefully to the noble Baroness and her concerns, but I say with great respect that I disagree with the assertions levelled in her Motion. She expressed concern about the lack of assessment undertaken by the PCC. I regret that this betrays a misunderstanding of the robust process that is in place before a governance transfer is approved. Before a proposal is submitted to the Home Secretary, the police and crime and commissioner must publicly consult with all relevant local authorities, local members of the public and those employees who may be affected by the proposal. Commissioner Julia Mulligan duly undertook a public consultation to garner views on her proposal. The consultation ran for 10 weeks and received over 2,500 individual responses from residents, local businesses, employees from the police and fire service and local authorities.
Opposition to the proposal was not widespread, as the noble Baroness maintained. It is clear that the status quo in North Yorkshire had not been aiding collaboration across the emergency services. All local stakeholders agreed that some change in governance was needed to aid collaboration. The North Yorkshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union supported a governance change and the PCC’s consultation resulted in over half of respondents supporting the PCC’s proposal to take on responsibility for the fire service.
I accept that that means that some respondents did not support the proposal, but such views were in a minority. These views have been considered very carefully. North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council did not support the proposal, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, highlighted that the fire and rescue authority disagreed with the proposal.
As a result of the objections from North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, as noble Lords mentioned, was commissioned to undertake an independent assessment of the proposal. CIPFA is independent, has substantial public sector finance expertise, and experience of working in both the policing and fire sector. Importantly, CIPFA discussed the proposal with local leaders, including the chief fire officer and his senior management team, the leader of North Yorkshire County Council and the leader of City of York Council.
CIPFA concluded that the PCC had conducted a wide-ranging consultation, with public events held on market days, and allowed adequate time for responses, especially taking account of the holiday season. CIPFA also noted that there is,
“no increased risk to public safety due to the proposed change in governance and there may be benefits in the future”,
as other noble Lords noted. On that point, I make clear that maintaining public safety is a core part of the fire and police service’s role. Its commitment to public safety will not be compromised.
The Home Secretary had due regard to CIPFA’s assessment and the PCC’s proposal alongside the consultation and representations made. In June, the Home Secretary was satisfied that the proposal was in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness and did not have an adverse effect on public safety. I reassure noble Lords that the distinction between policing and fire will remain: this is not an operational takeover. I recall the very firm arguments to that end that were made in this Chamber when we discussed the Bill.
The new police, fire and crime commissioner will be subject to robust scrutiny between elections. The police and crime panel has a range of appropriate powers to scrutinise the decisions of commissioners that affect their communities. The Act makes it clear that the functions of the police and crime panel will be extended to include the fire service. The panel will need to ensure that it has the right skills and knowledge relating to fire and rescue, as well as crime and policing. To support this process, a grant uplift has been issued to North Yorkshire County Council, in respect of the North Yorkshire police, fire and crime panel.
Following this Government’s reforms, the North Yorkshire fire and rescue service will also be subject to inspection, which is a key pillar of the reform agenda. I hope that gives the noble Baroness some comfort as to some of the work going forward. I am sure she will be looking forward to the outcome of the inspection.
I am confident that the changes to fire governance in North Yorkshire will take collaboration between North Yorkshire police and fire services further than has been the case to date. The police, fire and crime commissioner, Julia Mulligan, will further develop her plans, as we would expect, but I welcome the emphasis, in particular, on streamlining senior management posts, collaboration on back-office support services and sharing buildings between the two services.
Has it crossed my noble friend’s mind that this whole debate is far more about the parties opposite preparing for the next election of police commissioners in North Yorkshire than about the amalgamation of fire and police services in North Yorkshire?
My noble friend makes a very interesting point because this measure was not prayed against. Noble Lords opposite are expressing their feelings in a regret Motion slightly after the event. I share my noble friend’s cynicism.
Well, I do. Much of this was debated when we examined the Bill. Many of the issues around scrutiny were debated and I thank noble Lords for the time they took in scrutinising the Bill to make it far more robust in terms of the scrutiny that went on. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is in his place; he was one of the people who were absolutely adamant about scrutiny.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, noted that the savings directly attributed to the proposal were modest and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, backed that up. CIPFA was of the view that the savings associated with the direct governance benefits were reasonable and that savings for the shared estates and support services were not unreasonable. CIPFA reported that the PCC’s proposals set out estimated net savings of £6.6 million at present value over the 10 years and the noble Baroness pointed that out. CIPFA also highlighted that, in its experience, benefits can be obtained by better procurement and the realisation of the benefits of purchasing on a larger scale, and that it would be reasonable to expect benefits to arise in this area. I do not think any noble Lord could dispute that there are further streamlining processes that could be achieved. There will be some implementation costs associated with the transfer, but many other benefits such as increasing the pace and scale of collaboration, which can have substantial benefits for local communities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, questioned the accountability of the panels, saying that they are a bit toothless, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked whether they were an afterthought. They were very much the recommendation of your Lordships’ House. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was very keen that such scrutiny should take place. The panels enable the public to hold them to account as well and, crucially, they conduct the majority of their business in public—which is not something we could say for previous police authorities.
My Lords, the Minister has, unfortunately, said something quite outrageous. I chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority for four years, and the number of times we went into private session was extremely small. Most of those meetings were held in public with television cameras and most of the national press present. That was the balance.
The noble Lord is absolutely right; it was the case in London. Elsewhere it most certainly was not.
Certainly, when I chaired my police authority, we went all around the county and everybody was welcome; we had lots of people there. So what is happening now?
The noble Baroness pinpoints the issue. The public were welcome to attend. The public did not attend.
Well, not in great numbers. Anyway, that is a moot point. In Greater Manchester they did not attend.
My Lords, the Minister has mentioned my name even though I have not taken part in this debate at all, although I share the concerns of those who have moved this regret Motion. She may be confusing my concerns on scrutiny of the structure and governance of the combined authorities with the statements I made at the time of the passing of the Bill in relation to police and crime commissioners. As I recall, I never felt that the proposal was robust or that the scrutiny arrangements were adequate, because the powers given to the panels in my view were nothing like strong enough.
I apologise to the noble Lord if I am conflating or confusing combined authorities with the PCC role. He certainly was very vociferous on the role of scrutiny in terms of the combined authority.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked about the Government’s view on police and fire mergers in terms of the wider role; he referred to justice. I shall go back and ask what future plans are, because I confess that at this point I do not have up-to-date information on that.
Noble Lords asked about claims of bullying and whether the Home Office had received any representation. I confirm that the PCP in North Yorkshire has written to the Policing and Fire Minister regarding those allegations of bullying and harassment levelled at the PCC from members of her own staff. I also confirm that broader questions regarding the scrutiny role of PCPs have surfaced. PCC Mulligan has apologised for the impact that her behaviour may have had on the complainant and is already addressing many of the areas that the panel identified in its recent report.
I am talking about this in general terms. Is the ability of a PCC to work with those around her—for example, the police and crime panel and her own staff—a factor that is taken into account in considering whether she or he should also have responsibility for the fire and rescue service?
I do not know whether personal qualities or characteristics are taken into account and I do not feel that I am in a position to opine on this, given that I do not know the detailed circumstances of the complaint. However, the PCC is receiving support from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which is providing a mentoring function. I probably cannot go further than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also implied that PCCs seeking to take on governance of their local fire and rescue service should be prevented from doing so where that would have a negative impact on public safety. Public safety is of course the absolute core element of the role of the fire and rescue service, so we would not expect the Home Secretary to approve a transfer where that was compromised.
If I have not answered all the questions that were put to me, I will write to noble Lords in due course. Having heard the Government’s case, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her Motion to Regret.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, which has got more interest than I anticipated, and I thank the Minister for her very considered and careful response, as always. I want to highlight three points that the Minister has made.
The first is about collaboration. I said right from the outset that that is not in question here. As far as I am concerned, the point is well made. There ought to be collaboration between the emergency services, and efforts are being made in North Yorkshire without this change having been imposed on the authority. My second point is about the CIPFA independent assessment, which was underwhelming in its endorsement of the business case put by the North Yorkshire PCC. It could not have been more tepid if it tried. For that reason, we ought not to take into account that the CIPFA report was in favour of this. It found no supporting evidence for the case that was made. The third point I want to make is about the one that the Minister and others have made in the reports that I have read: “It is great to have visibility; we know who the PCC is”. We know who dictators are, actually, and we know that they are transparent in their decision-making, but they are not accountable and neither is a PCC.
For these reasons, the whole situation in North Yorkshire is becoming very difficult indeed, especially when we think that these are emergency services on which people’s lives depend. This is not a game being played, although it has seemed to be by the PCC. This is important stuff. To just say that it will lead to visible decision-making—no, it will not. Decision-making has to be thoughtful, considered and right.
The last comment I want to make is about accountability. The panels that are set have no powers at all to really call anyone to account. It is a single person who makes these vital decisions on emergency services, and the panels can do little or nothing. As we have heard, they have had to write to the Home Office to see if they can sort something out about the collapse in relationships in North Yorkshire.
I respect the Minister and the work she does, but I am afraid that in this instance I am not happy with her responses for the reasons I have given. Given that, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 123, Noes 138.