A bid by North Yorkshire’s crime commissioner to take over the county’s fire service has come under fire after it emerged more than £140,000 was spent on consultants.
Julia Mulligan has claimed £6.6m could be saved over ten years if her office replaced the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority (NYFRA), the body responsible for holding the fire service to account. Such a step would improve collaboration, she said, as well as save money, and has been met with “resounding” public support, despite being rejected by numerous authorities.
Now, after it emerged that £141,437.50 was spent on consultants to create a business case and carry out research, questions have been raised over the use of taxpayer money.
“This is totally unacceptable,” said Coun Ashley Mason, the vice-chairman of the Police and Crime Panel which holds the crime commissioner to account, adding the money would be better spent on staffing. “I was astonished to learn how much the police and crime commissioner had spent on this takeover bid. I was even more surprised to see that these costs are solely for the external consultants and marketers.
“The costs do not include the large amount of staff time her office put into the campaign and only £88,000 can be claimed back from the Home Office.”
Coun Mason said panel members were presented with the figures on a last-minute briefing sheet at Wednesday’s meeting.
The PCC’s office, however, insisted it has been transparent and said the figures have previously been published on its website. Mrs Mulligan hopes to follow in the footsteps of Roger Hirst in Essex, who become the country’s first combined police and fire commissioner last month.
She wants to adopt a governance model, taking over from the fire authority in its role setting the budget for NYFRS and overseeing its work, and says she has the support of the public, citing survey results which found 55 per cent of respondents were in favour.
“The public and workforce have backed my plans for fire and policing to work more closely together in North Yorkshire,” said Mrs Mulligan. “In fact, the only people opposed seem to be local politicians, and one has to question why.
“My business case is now with the Home Office for independent assessment, and we await the Home Secretary’s decision following that assessment.
“I have been open and transparent about the costs of developing the business case, which we have kept to a minimum. To suggest the money could be spent on staff is frankly ludicrous and shows no understanding of the difference between capital and revenue expenditure.
“Not only that, but there is no mention of the £6.6m of identified savings which my business case has outlined, which the councillor seems to be implying should be left on the table with taxpayers left to foot the bill.
“My focus always has been, and always will be, improving services for local people.”