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Fire Authorities

Volume 524: debated on Monday 28 February 2011

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effects on fire authorities of the planned reductions in grants to local government. (42499)

As part of the local government settlement for 2011-12 and the provisional settlement for 2012-13, an assessment of the reduction in spending power for individual, single-purpose fire and rescue authorities was published and is available in the Library.

Since 2004, Lancashire fire authority has successfully reduced expenditure without jeopardising public safety—incidents of arson and fire casualties have been reduced by more than a quarter. Lancashire faces cuts of 4% next year and there are fears that the back-loaded cuts at the end of the comprehensive spending review period will mean a 15% reduction. What reassurances can the Minister give to my constituents and firefighters that those latest cuts will not jeopardise or threaten their safety?

Bearing in mind that the formula grant amounts to some 50% of the income of single-purpose fire and rescue authorities, which therefore have other sources of income through council tax or reserves, the reduction in spending power for Lancashire in the current year is 1%, and next year it will see an increase in spending power of 0.1%.

It strikes me as a bit bonkers that many communities have separate fire, ambulance and police stations, many of which have been built recently. What is the Minister doing to encourage emergency services to work together to cut costs and to get rid of three lots of electricity bills and the such like? Also, what is he doing to ensure that they work together so that when one service is pressed, another can help and support it?

In fairness, a good deal of work is already being done at local level on closer collaboration and joint working between fire authorities and other emergency services, and I commend that. At the time of the settlement, I wrote to the chairmen of all fire and rescue authorities and their chief officers to set out the way in which closer joint working, collaboration, better procurement and the stripping out of back-office services could save money that could be made available to the front line.

The Minister knows that I have surveyed every fire and rescue service in the country about the impact of this year’s financial settlement. Fire chiefs have told me that his cuts to their budgets will result in fire stations being closed, fire appliances being taken out of service and more than 1,000 firefighters losing their jobs in the next 12 months alone. Is he confident that his cuts will not compromise public safety? Will he accept that the feedback from fire chiefs proves that he has singularly failed to deliver on his commitment to give some protection to fire and rescue services? Will he come clean and admit that his cuts—

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition at all. The fire service is protected because its reduction in spending power is 2.2% in the current year and 0.5% in the next year. I have pointed out exactly the measures that many local authorities are taking to save money in the back office and to concentrate on the front line, and I hope that he will encourage authorities to do the same and that he will not engage in scaremongering.