Public Services > Blue Light

Cheshire fire service to vote on police ICT link-up

Neil Merrett Published 29 September 2015

Constabulary and fire and rescue bodies may approve full governance strategy for single back-office support functions including HR and ICT by year's end


Cheshire's fire authority and Police & Crime Commissioner could potentially sign off on plans for a combined blue light back office collaboration strategy on December 9 as work continues to finalise how the agreement will function from a single site.

A spokesperson for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) said that while discussions would continue over the next two months about how best to share back office functions between the region's emergency services providers, no decisions would be approved until the year's end.

However, CFRS said the decision making process could continue beyond December's scheduled fire authority meeting until February 2016 if further clarification on the agreement is required by the individual bodies involved.

According to a fire authority report issued this month, discussions have looked at potential for efficiency either through a shared service agreement or merger of back office functions between Cheshire Constabulary (CC), CFRS and "where possible North West Ambulance Service".

To oversee these plans under the title of 'Blue Light Collaboration' (BLC), an executive board was founded to support discussions, with an agreement later reached that CC and CRS should implement a back office support strategy delivered from shared headquarters.

By July this year, the board approved a business plan for bringing together both organisations' ICT, HR, finance, procurement and fleet management functions within a single site. However, further work was required on how the plans would function, as well guaranteeing the necessary approvals from both organisations.

Cheshire Constabulary is already collaborating with other forces through the Multi-Force Shared Service (MFSS), where a number of the force's staff have been allocated. Capgemini is the supplier appointed to ensure the system implementation of the Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and collaborate on its configuration to support MFSS' work.

"A significant proportion of transactional services would be delivered by staff in the MFSS," said the report.

From an IT perspective, both CFRS and CC intend to use the same IT platform belonging to the force.

MFSS currently uses an Oracle ERP solution that replaces dedicated finance, HR and asset management systems.

"CC and CFRS would use CC's fleet management system. CC and CFRS would retain their respective current staff rostering systems," said the report.

The report also noted that CC was operating at a higher security level than CFRS due to the force's employees having to be vetted before gaining access to the existing Oracle system - leading to a need to address possible discrepancies between the different organisations.

"A number of options exist for dealing with security, ranging from upgrading the security level of CFRS (which will take time) through to developing bespoke applications to allow CFRS to access the CC system notwithstanding CFRS' lower level of security," said the findings.

"A degree of integration will be essential as CC operates with significant self-serve capabilities and it is through these that CFRS can make efficiencies."

The report noted that largest potential savings from the deal are expected to come from targeting the highest level of staff and process integration, despite clear differences in the two organisations' support services.

"There may need to be changes in the levels of service currently provided to both parties," said the report.

The fire authority noted that there would be in excess of 100 staff expected to be transferred to Cheshire Constabulary as a result of the back office support plans.

Considering government support for collaboration between emergency service providers, the authority claimed that it was "highly likely" funding may be available for the strategy to tackle wider challenges around public service delivery. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Home Office launched a consultation to explore further collaboration across emergency services in England and Wales earlier this month.

Under proposed next steps for the agreement, some of which are described as already being "well advanced", the report outlines a need to set out and agree key joint-working and governance principles over decision making for BLC.

The executive board is also required to set out a project plan and timetable to consider what senior management of the shared service will look like, while identifying appropriate resources.

Other key requirements include work to:

- Clarify the contractual relationship between CC and CFRS, including details about service levels
- Produce a staff engagement and communication plan
- Consideration of finance model and implications for funding
- Commence dialogue with trade unions
- Consider Fire Authority arrangements and member support for single headquarters move in line with TUPE legislation

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