Over recent months I have been working with a colleague, Dr Jacqueline Baxter from the Open University on a comparative governance paper focusing on education, health, policing and the fire and rescue services. The key issue to emerge is the stakeholder approach to governance is being replaced by either elected models or a more skills based governing board. In policing, elected police commissioners have replaced the original police authority made up of elected local councillors. In education in England, the stakeholder governing body has also been replaced with a membership more sharply focused on the skills which members can bring to the board. Some governing bodies in Wales are also more mindful of governor skills when vacancies arise.
In the recent focus on governance in the fire and rescue services, the issue of the transfer of the elected police commissioner approach to this service has been raised. Here, it is not a new elected Fire and Rescue Service commissioner which is being talked about but rather placing the fire and rescue service under the responsibility of the existing Police commissioners. The Commissioners themselves would be re-titled and have wider responsibilities. These could also include the Ambulance Service.
A change such as this would replace the existing Fire and Rescue Authorities which are made up of elected councillors. It is reported that the Commissioners are keen to take on the wider role.
Before the discussion around this goes any further, it is worth thinking about whether the existing model of governance in the FRS is effective and if it isn’t, a review of a range of approaches needs to be undertaken. The elected commissioner is one model of governance and there are others too which should to be examined prior to any change being proposed or implemented. The various options include a version of the stakeholder approach which could have a membership board based on a range of individuals including elected members – rather like a school governing body. Another alternative would be to replace the elected member board with a directly appointed one. This is the approach to governance of the FRS which has been put in place in Scotland in the newly merged Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. There are other models too.
Before the discussion about the re-organisation of the governance of the fire and rescue service goes any further, an evaluation of the need for change has to be undertaken. Reorganisation and restructuring are not only ways to bring about improvements in governance.