LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ELECTIONS (WALES) BILL

Evidence submitted by North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority

1.            The comments below are submitted for consideration by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on behalf of North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority in relation to the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill as introduced in November 2019. 

Circumstances when an inquiry should be held

2.            Under current legislation any proposal to change combined fire and rescue authorities’ combination orders would cause an inquiry to be held, except under certain circumstances (including when in the interests of public safety). 

3.            The Bill would amend the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 so that in Wales an inquiry would only be held if there was a proposal to alter the geographical area covered by the combination order or to revoke the combination order. 

4.            The Explanatory Memorandum presents the view that “the requirement to hold a public inquiry into any changes to the combination orders is time consuming and obstructive. In addition this requirement does not apply in relation to any other local government bodies”.

5.            We consider this rationale to be excessively narrow in its thinking.  The fact that something is time consuming does not necessarily make it obstructive.  Also, under the current arrangements, one basis for not holding an inquiry is if the combined fire and rescue authority and the county councils in its area agree to the proposed change.  To imply, therefore, that this requirement is somehow limited to fire and rescue authorities is clearly incorrect.

6.            Whilst recognising the convenience of removing the need to hold an inquiry in all but a very limited set of circumstances, we are concerned that the proposed change goes too far.  The notion that changing, for example, governance or funding arrangements of fire and rescue authorities (which are currently being considered) would have no direct impact on public or firefighter safety is flawed.  We would suggest that placing convenience over the protections afforded by the need to hold an inquiry in Wales would seem a retrograde step, not without some risk to public and firefighter safety. 

7.            To this end, we would strongly recommend further consideration be given to this proposal to ensure that the circumstances under which an inquiry would be held are sufficiently broad in the emergency service context.

Performance and governance of fire and rescue authorities

8.            We welcome the move away from the performance requirements in the Local Government Measure 2009 towards a more bespoke performance management framework for fire and rescue authorities.  We also recognise the convenience of aligning performance management arrangements more closely to the National Framework for Fire and Rescue Services.

9.            That said, the level of detail in s.163 of the Bill may prove to be over-prescriptive as currently written.  For example a requirement to specify “how the authority intends to assess its performance” would not necessarily apply in the case of a proposed action or implementation of change.

10.          We therefore suggest reviewing this section to ensure that what is contained is sufficiently strategic to accommodate and withstand differences and changes that will inevitably occur over time.

General

11.          We welcome the recognition of the differences between public bodies for the purpose of making regulations - for example, in relation to electronic broadcasts of meetings, where fire and rescue authorities would be subject to different regulatory processes from principal councils.  We consider this to be a sensible and pragmatic approach.