Fire authority chairman unaware council leaders would call for police takeover

PUBLISHED: 09:50 28 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:12 28 July 2017

Cllr Donald Davies was elected chairman of the fire authority last month.

Cllr Donald Davies was elected chairman of the fire authority last month.

Archant

The new chairman of Avon Fire Authority says he was ‘surprised’ to hear council leaders publicly call for the organisation to be headed by the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Donald Davies, who was appointed in June, oversaw an extraordinary fire authority meeting yesterday (Thursday) in the wake of a highly critical report into ‘failings of leadership and culture’ at Avon Fire and Rescue Service.

The report put forward 63 reform recommendations and the authority agreed on all bar one of them – the exception being calls for Sue Mountstevens as Police and Crime Commissioner to take over the running of a remodelled fire authority.

West of England council leaders, including North Somerset Council’s Nigel Ashton, released a statement on Wednesday saying Ms Mountstevens should be given authority over the running of the fire service as they held reservations whether it could rectify errors, amid accusations of bullying within the organisation.

It is now likely the Home Office will have to decide on who should take charge.

But Cllr Davies said while the fire authority would not rule out closer ties with Avon and Somerset Constabulary and other emergency services in the future, it has the ability to reform itself successfully.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Davies said: “Without exception members understood the challenge that lies ahead and there was a desire to work together in the interest of the four unitary areas we serve.

“I have been clear we cannot ignore the criticisms made in the report, nor seek to defend some of the mistakes made in the past, however our focus has to be on the future and how we ensure these things can’t happen again.

“We heard powerful representations from members of the public and I am grateful to them for providing their input which will help us as we begin the process of change.

“Members voted in support of the plan which we will immediately begin to put into action.

“In the light of the announcement by the Police and Crime Commissioner and the leaders of the four unitary authorities there was a great deal of debate about the future constitution of the fire authority and how that can best serve local people.

“We need more clarity on that proposal as this came as a surprise to the authority.

“Members have expressed their wish to be given the opportunity to make the changes that need to happen in regard to the governance of this organisation and we have a clear plan to achieve that.”

The fire authority plans to start its reforms by meeting today to appoint an Interim Chief Fire Officer and set up an Independent Improvement Board.

Cllr Davies added: “Finally I would once again like place on record my thanks and gratitude, and that of the full fire authority, to firefighters and support staff at Avon Fire and Rescue Service.

“The report was critical of our governance and senior management and not of the 800–strong workforce.

“We know they will feel bruised by the events of the last week, but despite that they continue to provide an essential public service of the very highest standard.”

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