Fire takeover ’empire-building’


By Leigh Boobyer – Local Democracy Reporter

Gloucestershire’s police chief Martin Surl said he is “sick” of people accusing him of empire building after councillors expressed concern over his plans that would see him take over the fire service.

Mr Surl was facing resistance to his proposal to ask the public who should run Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) from councillors who argued it is “unhelpful”.

The Police and Crime Commissioner insisted there had to be a rethink after an internal audit review found GFRS needed to “rebuild trust” after a breakdown of leadership at the top of the board.

Approval for the two services to merge is ultimately made by the Home Office, but Gloucestershire County Council have been unwilling to accept such a re-alignment.

A document presented to the Police and Crime Panel said the merger would “dramatically” reduce scrutiny by councillors arguing Mr Surl’s proposal doesn’t include how the new service would be held to account.

Mr Surl tried to take over the fire service – run under Gloucestershire County Council’s umbrella – last year but was met with opposition by councillors who argued it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

A report by consultancy firm Ameo, commissioned by the county council to assess the effectiveness of a merger, found it would cost taxpayers’ £2.5million over three years.

Mr Surl wants to look at the governance of the GFRS again in light of the scandal that led to the resignation of ex-chief fire officer Stewart Edgar over the sale of a service-owned vehicle.

Gloucestershire County Council also appointed a new Chief Fire Officer, Wayne Bowcock, in October.

Speaking before councillors today, Mr Surl said: “The police and fire services are under so much pressure at the moment. I honestly believe we would achieve a better service if they came under one person.”

When asked how much extra money he would earn if he was responsible for both services, Mr Surl said £3,000 per year before tax.

According to current expenditure reports released by the PCC, Mr Surl is paid an annual salary of £65,000.

The panel agreed to meet after the consultation ends on December 21 to debate the proposals.


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