Shock proposals to merge police, fire and ambulance services have been condemned as “absolute madness” by an MP.
Police Minister Damian Green said blue-light services could be bought together under the leadership of elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
In a speech to think-tank Reform, he stressed that the proposal was an idea to “start thinking about” rather than firm policy.
But the suggestion was condemned by MP Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak), who said that there were still serious doubts about whether Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) should even have been created,
Commissioners were created by the Coalition Government to replace existing police authorities, which included local councillors.
The Government says the new system makes police forces more responsive to local needs but critics say that it is expensive and has led in some cases to police chief constables being undermined.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee is investigating the way the PPC in Gwent ordered the force’s chief constable to stand down.
Mr Green also suggested blue light services could share facilities – including joint vehicles.
He said: “The blue light services have more that connects than divides what they do. Is an arson attack more of a fire emergency or a crime? Do injuries resulting from a street brawl require medical attention or police action first?”
The minister highlighted a review carried out on behalf of the Government by Sir Ken Knight, former Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service, which suggested PCCs could take on responsibility for the fire and rescue service.
But Mr Green added: “Why stop there? There is clearly huge scope for collaboration between all three blue light services across the country and we have established a democratic model which could, in theory, oversee elements of all of them.
“Could PCCs end up overseeing both fire and ambulance services? That might be a long way down the road, but let us start thinking about it.
“Ask yourself the same question, why do we send three separate vehicles to a road traffic accident? If we were starting from scratch, would we organise ourselves in this way? I very much doubt it.”
Mr McCabe said: “It is completely mad. There are real concerns about the way some PCCs are conducting their responsibilities and the dust has hardly settled but the Government is trying to extend their role.”
The introduction of PCCs had reduced the role of local councils in holding police to account and the same would be true for fire services if their role was extended, he said.
“This isn’t democracy. It is a way of robbing local people of any control.
“We should be holding Police and Crime Commissioners to account rather than extending their powers.”
Jack Dromey (Lab Erdington) said: ”Our emergency services work well together but it is of course right that we seek to strengthen that collaboration.
“Putting all the emergency services under the control of a local politician would be however both unnecessary and problematic.”
Sir Ken made a series of recommendations in a report commissioned by the Government. His findings are being considered by ministers and are not currently government policy.
They included proposals to merge fire services.
Sir Ken said in his report: “The 46 fire and rescue authorities, each with different governance structures, senior leaders, and organisational and operational quirks does not make for a sensible delivery model.”
He said: “Mergers can be a solution, but there is a lack of local political appetite and incentive to combine.”
Sir Ken called for “efficiencies driven by government and national leaders in the sector”, including “enforced mergers to reduce the number of fire and rescue authorities”.
The report also called for fire services to work more closely with other blue light services.