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Fire and Rescue Services

Volume 534: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

1. What estimate he has made of the average change in funding for fire and rescue services between 2011 and 2013. (77094)

Driving down the nation’s deficit remains the Government’s principal priority, but we have protected fire and rescue services in the spending review by back-loading their reductions to 2013-14 and 2014-15. As a consequence, the revenue spending power of single-purpose fire and rescue authorities will be reduced by only 2.2% in 2011-12 and by 0.5% in 2012-13.

The local chief fire officer in Tyne and Wear advises me that although the average loss across the country is 6.5%, in the metropolitan areas it is 12.9%. He believes that if the cuts go ahead they will lead to a weakening of national and local resilience, firefighters made compulsorily redundant, a further reduction in the number of rescuers, a significant fall in the number of readily available appliances and fire station closures. What will the Minister do to ensure that that prophesy does not come true?

All local fire and rescue authorities must perform their statutory duties under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and act in a way that is consistent with their integrated risk management plans. The Government adjusted the fire formula following consultation with local fire and rescue authorities and increased the weighting given to the needs element and risk factors in urban areas.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that at least £630 million will be wasted by the Labour Government’s commitment to regional control centres and that in the south-east the taxpayer is likely to be paying £1.5 million a year in rent over the next 20 years for a control centre in Farnham that nobody needs? All that money could be better spent on the fire service today.

My hon. Friend is right to point out the exceptionally strong condemnation by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee of the previous Administration’s project. We have done our best to minimise the damage to the taxpayer by terminating the contract and thereby ending the haemorrhage of money. We have also reduced the maintenance costs of the remaining stations and are seeking end uses for them. We are making progress in finding an appropriate use for them, to get them off the public books as swiftly as we can.

Fire services in Hampshire, Essex, Dorset, Devon and Somerset are receiving an increase in the Government grant over the next two years. South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, the west midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester all face cuts of more than 12%. Why?

Apart from the adjustments to which I have referred, I used the same fire resources needs formula as I inherited from the right hon. Gentleman, so he should know.

The Minister should stop being so complacent about these terrible cuts to the fire service. He has been warned by the country’s metropolitan chief fire officers that if his cuts proceed lives will be endangered and our ability to respond to acts of terrorism and other major incidents will be compromised. Will he listen to their warnings and scrap his plans for even deeper cuts to the fire and rescue service in years three and four of the budget cycle?

I was about to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on retaining his post in the reshuffle; I might rethink that, because I am afraid it is the same old story and he is plain wrong. The Government have made it clear that we are protecting the fire service as a front-line service. We have back-loaded services and indicated to county councils with fire authorities that they should maintain the same profile. We have also made available £70 million of capital grant to improve their future adjustments and made it clear that we will protect all front-line operations.