Changes to emergency services need monitoring

Changes to public services always prove a field day for those who love jargon and words that disguise, rather than convey meaning.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 2:45 pm

And so it is today, as we report talks between Hampshire Constabulary and the county’s fire and rescue service about their future collaboration.

Gird yourself for talk of ‘strategic analysis’, ‘improving operational effectiveness’, ‘added value’ and other phrases much-loved by those overseeing services.

Cut through all this, though, and some important questions are thrown up. The root of this is the need to respond to the government giving out less and less money to fund the emergency services we take for granted.

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We’ve seen this already this year with the fire service’s changes to how it operates which, as well as preparing for the future, were also aimed at tackling its deficit and reining in costs.

And the police’s need to save cash – having to cut £80m by April next year – is well documented.

This comes in the context of the Police and Crime Bill, which places a ‘duty of collaboration’ on the emergency services. So it’s quite right that these discussions take place. But what needs to be cleared up, from the public’s point of view, is what this ‘collaboration’ means in real life.

Because having firefighters who are trained in first aid, for example – as is happening at the moment – is obviously a lot different to sending out a fire truck instead of an ambulance.

And so in this case, with the fire service and the police force, we do not want to see situations in which firefighters are used at times when there are no officers free to attend what would traditionally be a police incident.

As the Police Federation’s John Apter says, the services ‘complement each other but we can’t replace each other’.

And we cannot allow any public safety to be put at risk due to underfunding from the government. We hope for transparency throughout these discussions, which need careful monitoring. And we cannot afford to let words hide the truth of what will happen in an emergency.