The short answer is none. The Labour party’s claim that the Government are privatising, or seeking to privatise, the fire service is completely untrue. Rather, we are supporting locally led mutuals and co-operatives, which I would have thought the Labour party would have backed, given that its coalition partner is the Co-operative party.
The fire service Minister has written to the Chair of the House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee outlining plans that could lead to 112 fire stations across Greater London being run by a private company. Why is he planning to take such risks? I do not agree that there is no plan. We know already that companies such as AssetCo have cost taxpayers millions of pounds. Will he give a straight answer?
I just did. The Labour party is giving out information that is simply not correct. We are looking to work with an area such as Cleveland, for example, where the Labour-led fire authority wants to mutualise. We think that mutualisation is good and the right thing to do, so I am disappointed that the Labour party seems to be turning away from co-operatives and mutuals. I would have thought it supported them, given the discussion in a recent publication by the Co-operative party containing a foreword endorsed by the leader of the Labour party.
Nobody believes the housing Minister—the fire Minister, I mean, although I do not believe the housing Minister either, given his answers to previous questions. Nobody believes the fire Minister when he says he has no plans to privatise the fire and rescue service. After all, the Conservative party has form on this. If he does not want to privatise it, why did he write to the Regulatory Reform Committee seeking its views
“on our proposals for a Legislative Reform Order that would enable fire and rescue authorities in England to contract out their full range of services to a suitable provider, including a public service mutual...or other appointed contractor?”
I have to congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who spoke about this last week at the Local Government Association’s fire conference, on his ability to start a campaign to stop something that was never started in the first place. As I have outlined, the simple fact is that Labour-led Cleveland fire authority wants to consider mutualising. Unlike the Labour party, it seems, we are happy to support employee ownership in mutuals, and will continue to do so. I hope that the Labour party will go back to supporting co-operatives.