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Fire and Rescue Service

Volume 558: debated on Monday 4 February 2013

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of spending reductions in each fire and rescue service area. (140752)

15. What assessment he has made of the effect of spending reductions in each fire and rescue service area. (140763)

16. What assessment he has made of the effect of spending reductions in each fire and rescue service area. (140764)

Fire and rescue authorities have been protected by back-loading grant reductions into years 3 and 4 of the spending review period. That has provided time to meet the reductions without impacting on the quality of local services. There is scope for fire and rescue authorities to make sensible savings.

In South Yorkshire, we are losing 140 firefighters, and we are currently advertising for contract part-time reservists, not full-timers. Will the Minister assure us that these actions and the restrictions on growth will not affect response times, which could put lives at risk?

As I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate, local response times and decision making over local things like that are a matter for the local fire service. I am pleased to say, however, that the fire service has been protected; indeed, South Yorkshire will receive an extra £2.4 million in capital funding.

Why are fire authority areas with higher incident rates suffering the largest cuts? The West Midlands fire service has been the hardest hit, with cuts of nearly 19%. Will the Government not have another look at that?

The West Midlands fire service also benefits from the de minimis changes in this year’s settlement. It is also one of the authorities that has gained most from the capital grant funding of £11.5 million.

Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service would have suffered a 16% reduction in grant funding over this coming year had it not been for the floor mechanism. Given the reliance on the floor, does the Minister believe that the formula accurately reflects the relevant needs and local risks? Will he review the formula now before it is locked in?

I believe that a report from the House of Commons Library stated that this year’s formula and settlement were fair to north, south, east and west. However, to offer some extra support to fire and rescue authorities, I have asked the outgoing chief fire and rescue adviser, Sir Ken Knight, to look at ways in which they can deliver savings and improvements without reducing the quality of their lifesaving work.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the introduction by Kent fire and rescue service of a new system in Medway that helps to reduce damage caused by fire?

I am happy to congratulate Kent fire and rescue service on its work. When I visited its headquarters recently, I observed some of the innovative work that it is doing in both protecting the front line and making savings by, for instance, sharing its call centre with the police. I hope that fire services across the country will learn from that innovative way of working.

The average spending power reductions are 14.5% for metropolitan fire authorities and 7.5% for combined fire authorities. That has resulted in fewer appliances, fire station closures, reductions in fire-prevention work, and an increased response time in certain areas. However, the fire Minister wrote to me last month that

“savings should be made without… affecting…frontline services.”

As Winston Churchill once said, “The truth is incontrovertible.” Will the Minister now accept the incontrovertible truth that his cuts are adversely affecting front-line fire and rescue services?

In the interests of absolute truth, let me reconfirm that the reduction in spending power for fire and rescue authorities was 2.2% for 2011-12 and 0.5% for 2012-13. As was said earlier, that moves to 4.7% in 2013-14, with the back-loading, and to just 3.3% in 2014-15. Those figures are slightly different from the ones given by the hon. Gentleman.