Plan could see merging of police and fire services.
Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor email@example.com
POLICE and crime commis sioners could take over re sponsibility for fire services too, under controversial plans an nounced by the Home Office.
And the plan could mean a merger between Tyne and Wear Rescue Fire Service and Northumberland Fire Service.
But last night the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Northum bria said she would not take up the government's offer.
The door would be open for a PCC elected in the future to take a differ ent decision.
It would mean police and fire ser vices becoming a single employer, but there would continue to be a dis tinction between police, with the power to arrest people, and firefight ers, who do not have this power. Ministers say the change would make both services better by helping them to work together.
But the Fire Brigades Union has warned the plan would lead to fire services merging in regions where multiple fire brigades serve the same area as a single police force.
The area served by Northumbria Police has two fire services - Tyne and Wear, which serves Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyne side and South Tyneside; and Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service. If a merger did take place, the police chief constable, the most sen ior manager in the force, and fire ser vice chief fire officers would also be replaced by a single chief officer.
Home Office Minister Mike Pen ning said the government would introduce new laws allowing PCCs to apply for the power to take over fire services - but they would be free to decline the offer.
Mrs Baird said: "In my response to the recent government consultation on bringing fire and rescue services into the remit of PCCs I rejected the need.
"I have suggested we set up a col laborative board with members from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Ser vice, Northumberland County Coun cil and the office of the police and crime commissioner so we can sys tematically work together to improve our services to the public, and where possible, to bring economies."
A Fire Brigades Union spokesmans aid: "Many fire services operate under different boundaries from the 43 police force areas in England and Wales. Nine fire and rescue authori ties are county councils and 15 fire and rescue authorities do not cover the same area as police forces.
"Enabling PCCs to take control of these authorities would involve sep arating their functions from county councils, merging two or more fire authorities and/or restructuring the entire region."
Mr Penning said: "We believe that better joint working can strengthen the emergency services, deliver sig nificant savings and produce bene fits for the public."
Many fire services operate under different boundaries from the 43 police force areas
Police and fire services could become a single employer under new plans