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Fire Authorities

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the reduction in services that fire authorities have to make as a result of expenditure shortfalls. [36521]

Representations about the level of financial provision available to fire authorities have been received from a number of hon. Members and others. My right hon. and learned Friend's approval is required under section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 before any reduction in the number of fire stations, fire appliances or firefighting posts in a brigade can be made, and is given only when he is satisfied that the normally recommended minimum levels of fire cover will be maintained. I understand that the West Midlands fire and civil defence authority is meeting all its statutory obligations.

Is the Minister aware that the West Midlands fire brigade pension fund is about £7 million in deficit? Does he realise that that could result in further cuts in the service? What does he propose to do?

Those matters are mostly the concern of the fire authorities. The hon. Gentleman, however, and the people of his area have a safeguard because we shall not allow the standards of fire protection to fall. The service provided by the fire authorities will be protected for ordinary people. I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me in asking firemen on Merseyside to settle their dispute and return to work. Firemen who are on strike in that manner harm fire protection, as opposed to what the Government are doing.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the ways in which fire services are budgeted? Is it not illogical that the expenditure side is determined on risk analysis whereas the revenue side is determined on the previous three years' call-out rate?

There are illogicalities, and I shall be happy to consider the matter that my hon. Friend has raised. I am satisfied, however, that the financing of fire authorities is satisfactory and adequate for the majority of them to meet the needs that they have above and beyond the need of fire protection.