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Police Crime Commissioner wants to merge police and fire services

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Andy Coles and Jason Ablewhite speaking to residents in Cathedral Square
Andy Coles and Jason Ablewhite speaking to residents in Cathedral Square

Cambridgeshire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner says he cannot guarantee that Thorpe Wood station will remain in use as he targets taking over the county’s fire service.

Conservative Jason Ablewhite believes merging police and fire services will cut costs which would help him to bolster frontline policing.

The former executive leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, who has now resigned from the role, believes a police presence could be offered in community centres or libraries going forward.

Speaking in Cathedral Square last Thursday, he said: “I’ve only just come in, there’s an estates review ongoing to see how we can reduce the overall central cost. It’s having the presence which is the most important thing of all.

“Whether you have a police presence you can go to - a drop-in centre in a town hall or a fire station, a local community centre or a library - it doesn’t matter if it has a police badge on that.

“It does not necessarily have to be a police station. It’s just about that presence that’s the most important thing.

“I’ve given a commitment to Peterborough that you will have a service up here.

“We’ve got time, we’ve got a steady budget. We’re not in any panic, but we do need to look at how we create the situation where we can put more resilience on our frontline.”

Asked if he could guarantee that Thorpe Wood would be untouched, Mr Ablewhite replied: “I’m not going to give a 100 per cent guarantee on any building because it’s a building. The important bit is the police presence and where that is.”

Mr Ablewhite also indicated that if legislation going through Parliament is passed to allow Police and Crime Commissioners to take over fire services, then he would be very interested in using that power.

He said: “My goal has always been, if I get the opportunity, to bring fire in. First and foremost, joint headquarters, collaboration, back office, a joint communications team. A joint this, a joint that.

“It doesn’t affect the frontline, but actually that simple collaboration saves a huge amount of money.

“There is already a real spirit of collaboration between the fire service and the police, and I would like to see that collaboration extend.

“Where you’ve got a fire station you can have a police hub. They can move in, it’s a building. You can get the saving, but you still have the same service.”

The new commissioner was elected earlier this month on a turnout of 30.56 per cent, but in districts where the vote did not coincide with local elections, turnout was a fraction over 18 per cent.

Mr Ablewhite said: “I fundamentally think our government have got the PR on this completely wrong. When you are going to introduce something that’s completely new, you’ve got to sell it to the public.

“There are still clearly a lot of people out there - I don’t think they disagree with the concept - they just don’t know what it is. Don’t know what it does.

“I think over the next four years one of my key roles is to be more visible, get out and about, and to show people the commissioner is someone you can come up to on the street.”

But despite his relative anonymity, Mr Ablewhite could soon be holding considerably more power. He said: “Over the next four years I can see more and more responsibility coming down to the Police and Crime Commissioners.

“We are already looking at youth offending, probation services. I think we are going to see more of the justice system come our way over the next four years.

“I certainly think there’s going to be more responsibility by the end of my tenure than less.”

Mr Ablewhite is also confident his budget will not be slashed during his term of office. He added: “I think we’ve seen the worst [of the cuts]. But I can’t see any new money coming forward.”

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