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Fire and Rescue Services

Volume 530: debated on Monday 20 June 2011

8. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of fire and rescue services on the effects of reductions in their budgets; and if he will make a statement. (60280)

I regularly meet representatives of fire and rescue authorities. My door is always open to their members if they wish to discuss their concerns. I have specified seven areas in which fire and rescue authorities might make efficiency savings, but the setting of fire authority budgets and service delivery are a local matter which is determined by individual fire and rescue authorities and not by central Government.

Shropshire fire and rescue service

“has been hit by unprecedented cuts to its grant from Central Government, with a 12.6% reduction for years 2011-12 and 2012-13”.

Those are not my words, but the words of the chief fire officer in a letter sent to me the other day. Services and engine cover in Telford are to be reorganised. If response times fall away, will the Minister look again at the grant allocation for the Shropshire fire service?

The local government grant accounts for only about 38% of the Shropshire fire and rescue authority’s total budget. Its spending power has therefore been reduced by only 2.1%, while its capital grant has been increased by 32%. The disposition of appliances and staff is, of course, a matter for the authority.

As my hon. Friend knows, following the floods of 2007 and the tragedy in Hull the Pitt report placed an obligation on fire services to provide the right equipment in the event of future floods. Will he ensure not just that that obligation exists but that money will be provided, and will he insist that local authorities make that happen?

Some of the most important equipment made available for such purposes is the “new dimension” equipment that is provided through a central Government grant. The Government have continued to fund the equipment directly, and I am glad to say that, with the exception of one item, all of it is duly being rolled out.

In February, the Under-Secretary of State accused me of scaremongering about the impact of his cuts on the fire service. However, freedom of information requests have confirmed that he has already presided over more than 1,000 firefighter job losses, although the Prime Minister pledged to supply funds to the fire service front line. Can he tell us whether he expects further firefighter cuts in the next 12 months, and if so, how many?

The disposition of firefighters is entirely a matter for local authorities, whose job is to ensure that they fulfil their statutory obligations and meet their integrated resource management plan. Provided that they do those two things, it is not for central Government to micro-manage them. I know that it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to understand that.