"I will fight tooth and nail" to stop Bedfordshire police and crime commissioner taking over fire and rescue service says councillor

Home Office committed to supporting moves towards a single point of accountability for fire and rescue services
Festus AkinbusoyeFestus Akinbusoye
Festus Akinbusoye

A Bedfordshire councillor has said he will “fight tooth and nail” to stop the current police and crime commissioner (PCC) taking over the county’s fire and rescue service.

But the PCC, Festus Akinbusoye, said he has no plans to deny them their “taxpayer-funded payments” as members of Bedfordshire’s Fire and Rescue Authority.

The county’s Fire and Rescue Authority heard on Tuesday (February 13) that the Home Office is committed to supporting moves towards a single point of accountability for fire and rescue services.

John-Joe Pekszyc, head of strategic support and asset management at the fire and rescue service, said: “It will not mandate a transfer of fire and rescue authority functions to PCCs, mayors, or single elected officials at this stage.

“Its intention is to encourage PCCs and mayors who want to take on fire governance where there’s coterminosity.”

The chief fire officer, Andrew Hopkinson, said that the current PCC had “not indicated” that he wished to take on the fire service.

Councillor Russell Goodchild (Central Bedfordshire Council) said he likes being involved with the fire authority.

“The transparency we are getting from our officers throughout is a real pleasure,” he said.

“Knowing the lack of transparency that we’ve got from the PCC and his set up, I for one would hate to see the current PCC trying to take over a very good fire service. I would fight tooth and nail to stop that happening.”

Councillor Steve Owen (Central Bedfordshire Council) said: “There’s a fundamental difference between the accountability of the fire & rescue service and the police service in Bedfordshire. We have the replacement of the old [police] authority by a single police and crime commissioner and much of the accountability function goes on behind closed doors. The public don’t see it, the representatives of the public, the selected councillors, certainly don’t get the opportunity to question either the chief constable or the commissioner himself

“So I see this authority and the way it functions as fundamentally advantaged in terms of the public who pay for it all.

“I would be very keen to make sure first of all that we are able to carry on doing what we do. And I’d be very keen to see the replacement of the present accountability for the police service by a return to a system whereby representatives of the public can together, perhaps as an authority, do what we do here.”

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, commissioner Akinbusoye said: “There is a positive working relationship between Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Bedfordshire Office of Police and Crime Commissioner which I lead.

“I have thrown my support behind the One Estate strategy for blue light services, a collaboration which our excellent fire chief is quite passionate about.

“Furthermore, I have provided significant funding as Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner to our Fire Service for a Virtual Reality road safety van which will save lives when it is delivered for joint usage.

“I recommend this spirit of partnership working to the Central Bedfordshire Lib Dems and Independent councillors on the Fire Authority. As PCC, I have no plans of denying them their taxpayer-funded payments as members of Bedfordshire’s Fire Authority.”