Back in June, something very strange happened during the Police and Crime Board Confirmation Panel hearing on Beverly Hughes becoming the £75,000 a year Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime...*
As councillors are quizzing Hughes about the role, Tory Trafford councillor, Laura Evans, asks her about 'redesigning' the blue light services, which are police, ambulances and fire...
"The whole of the blue light services I think need to be part of this conversation" she says "The fact is that we have all of these services in those communities, not least of all the fire...the, er, general need for the level of, erm, firefighters is obviously just the same because obviously we could have a big, er, event; but actually their day to day is not so well used perhaps...I would like to know what we're going to develop as a strategy moving forward to work with all of the blue lights and bring them into this arena..."
Beverley Hughes nervously responds...
"Well, I think there is potential, certainly from an efficiency point of view, Laura, to...to...to look at where, erm, joint working and joint support can get better value, erm, for money and I think that's been raised with us already hasn't it Andy by at least some of the leaders of those services.
"So there is a process that, erm, I have been talking to Adam (?) about that we will start to look at that" she adds "I think there clearly are some, ermmm, sensitivities around that and, er, we'll have to take those into account, erm, but yes that is on the agenda."
'Sensitivities' is an understatement. This week, the Salford Star understands, a 'debrief', or inquiry, is about to begin behind closed doors into the emergency services response to the Manchester Arena bomb attack.
As the Star reported, firefighters in Manchester were held back from immediately attending the bomb scene by managers, which led some of them to say they were 'ashamed' (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, has already stated that this issue will form part of the inquiry but 'redesigns' and 'mergers' inevitably mean cuts – at a time, post Grenfell Tower and the bomb attack, when the fire service, already slashed to the bone, can least cope with them. Worried communities in Salford and beyond want the fire service to have more powers, particularly over safety, and more numbers.
After the Beverley Hughes statement during the confirmation hearing, Andy Burnham responds by talking around the issue "...we need to consider how we can encourage greater working across all three services" he says "The fire service are increasingly deploying defibrillators on fire engines and fire fighters are trained in CPR; that's a positive development...and I think, though, we have to find a way that's then sustainable across the fire service, and that fire fighters are adequately trained and resourced to do that.
"There are issues here that we need to take forward" he adds "and I think we should take them forward in the context of a review in terms of how the emergency services responded on the night..."
Post devolution, one of the Greater Manchester Mayor's powers is over the GM Fire and Rescue Service. At the moment, as Burnham says, the fire service is part of national pilot scheme to work more closely with health services. But the Salford Star understands that, behind the scenes, a part merger with the police could be being discussed, one that is more than sharing back office services.
"The union is aware of discussions about collaboration with other blue lights" Gary Keary of the Fire Brigades Union told the Salford Star "We've been engaged previously and will continue to be involved in these discussions. However we have concerns about elements of blue light collaboration, especially when it begins to impact the front line which could have negative effects.
"We've had massive cuts over recent years, and the union and the Chief Fire Officer believe that the cuts have already gone too far, and we don't believe we can take any more cuts to the front line" he added "We need to reinvest with staff and equipment to allow us to do our job to the best of our ability."
Andy Burnham's office did not wish to comment on the issue.
To view the YouTube video of Beverley Hughes and Andy Burnham at the confirmation hearing – click here. The exchange is around 55 minutes into the meeting