A ROW has broken out after West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion won his high court case to take over governance of fire services in the region.

Mr Campion has written a letter to Councillor Roger Phillips, chair of the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Fire Authority, in which he says: “Having had time to fully digest the Judge’s remarks, I hope you will recognise that they are robust and unequivocal.

“I am concerned that in spite of the clear, unambiguous ruling of a High Court Judge, your remarks in subsequent media coverage suggest your authority still seem intent on continuing to divert tens of thousands of pounds in public money away from frontline fire services to fight the Government on this issue.

“The Fire Authority should now be transparent with the public as to how much money intended for fire services has now been spent on this legal challenge and how much more is budgeted, set aside or otherwise authorised for challenging the transition to single governance.”

In response to letter, Cllr Phillips said: “Contrary to the viewpoint expressed by the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Judge actually agreed with the arguments put by the Fire Authorities and decided the then Home Secretary had used the wrong test when considering the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the PCC’s business case.

“This vindicates our decision to bring a legal challenge in the first place.

“Despite that, however, the Judge felt that the Home Secretary would still have come to the same decision even if they had applied the correct law and so he refused to grant our judicial review.

“But the Home Office lawyers had not argued that point during the hearing and so we think the judge was wrong to make that decision. We are therefore applying for leave to appeal.

“As regards the PCC’s claim that the Fire Authorities are wasting public money, CIPFA, the independent accountants who were appointed by the Government to review the PCC’s business case, concluded that the savings projected by the PCC were significantly overstated.

“The Home Office in their own analysis said the business case was ‘neutral’ so far as any savings were concerned.

“CIPFA also said that the efficiencies identified in the PCC’s business case could all be achieved without changing the governance of the Fire and Rescue Service.

“In the view of the Fire Authorities and their four constituent local authorities, therefore, a change of governance to the PCC is unnecessary.

“I have consistently told the Police & Crime Commissioner, for over two years, that he should seek support for his takeover of the fire services at the ballot box in the PCC elections in May 2020. That is the proper way to get a mandate.”

“In respect to the legal costs, these have yet to be settled and the Fire Authority will happily publish the costs when they are finalised.”

Andrew Scattergood, West Midlands regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It’s dangerously misleading for the PCC to suggest he can cut £4M pounds from existing budgets without affecting emergency cover.

“Control room staff are firefighters and are trained to provide vital fire survival guidance calls, scrapping their posts or merging with policing services is simply not safe.

“Firefighters provide a humanitarian service, which often allows access to areas of the community that the police sometimes struggle to engage with. We cannot do that unless it’s clear that we are not the police.

“We’re not going to cave in on this. We’ll keep fighting until this hostile takeover stops. This is a serious matter of public safety.”