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Petitions

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

Petition

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Observations

Communities and Local Government

Fire Services in the Cleveland Fire Authority area (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland)

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that it is unfair that the Department for Communities and Local Government have imposed large funding reductions on a high-risk area like Cleveland when lower-risk areas in the South of England have had their central funding increased; further that the Petitioners believe that funding reductions have contributed to the 54.1% increase in total fire calls in Cleveland between 2012-13 and 2013-14; further that the Petitioners believe that it is unacceptable that the Authority’s proposed Integrated Risk Management Plan recommends the closure of Marine Fire Station and the reduction by approximately 25% of the number of the whole-time firefighters; further that the Authority and Government should take steps to protect frontline services and further that a local Petition on this issue has received over 6,000 signatures across Redcar and Cleveland, Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Communities and Local Government to provide a fairer funding settlement that gives due consideration to deprivation and risk, further that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Cleveland Fire Authority to reallocate planned capital expenditure to the preservation of frontline services, and further that the House of Commons urges the Cabinet Office, Department for Communities and Local Government and Cleveland Fire Authority not to further expend on unwanted and high-risk proposals to spin out fire brigades as public service mutuals.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Blenkinsop, Official Report, 26 February 2014; Vol. 576, c. 378.]

[P001321]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Fire and rescue authorities deliver an incredibly important service for local communities and are continuing to play their part, along with other parts of local government, in cutting the deficit. Single-purpose fire and rescue authorities (outside London) will receive £1.46 billion of revenue spending power under the 2014-15 settlement, of which approximately £0.74 billion is revenue support grant and business rates baseline, with further substantive funding to be supplied through council tax. Cleveland Fire and Rescue Authority’s Spending Power for 2014-15 is £28.6 million. They will also receive £193,000 to support national resilience and £2.74 million of capital grant. Cleveland Fire’s reserves out-turn at the end of 2012-13 was £10.8 million—their reserves have more than doubled since 2009 (CIPFA data).

The Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government is aware that Cleveland had a 2.2% spending power reduction in 2012-13 and a 5.% spending power reduction in 2013/14 —both low in the current fiscal climate and given the need to pay off the deficit left by the last Administration. Data on fires and false alarms (rather than “fire calls”) in Cleveland are only available for the first six months of 2013-14. Cleveland Fire and Rescue Authority recorded 3,932 fires and false alarms during this period, an increase of 34% from the same period in 2012-13 (2,936). There were, however, fewer fires and false alarms recorded in 2013-14 than in the same period in each of three years prior to 2012-13. The significantly lower number in 2012-13 is likely to be due to the wet summer of 2012.

Fire and rescue authorities are best placed to assess and manage their services and do this through the integrated risk management planning process. Fire and rescue authorities now attend 46% fewer incidents than 10 years ago and they allocate their resources according to local risk. Fire safety is at an all-time high, but overall fire fighter strength over the same period has only dropped by 9%. Decisions on allocation of their resources are taken by fire and rescue authorities like Cleveland through the integrated risk management planning process after effective consultation with the local community—there is no role for central Government to intervene in such decision-making. Decisions on operational matters such as station closures and firefighter numbers are, therefore, for Cleveland fire and rescue authority.

Overall the 2014-15 finance settlement provides fair funding for all authorities whether rural or urban, north or south. In 2013-14 protections were built in for the most grant dependent authorities taking account of risk and deprivation through the relative needs element, so that authorities facing the highest demand for services continue to receive substantially more funding through the settlement (i.e. in their allocation of revenue support grant and the baseline for retained business rates, which is known as the settlement funding assessment).

Spending power of authorities in the most deprived areas is much higher—in 2014-15 up to around £4200 per dwelling in the 10% most deprived authority areas compared to up around £2100 per dwelling in the 10% least deprived authority areas. Cleveland’s Spending Power per dwelling is the highest amongst single-tier fire authorities at £115, compared to, for example, Berkshire at £95, Hampshire at £89 or Kent at £94.

We are giving fire and rescue authorities the stability to reform local services for their communities and to make long-term savings. The Knight Review “Facing the Future”, found huge variations in the way fire and rescue authorities operated and concluded that there were significant opportunities for savings. This is why Government are making available a £75 million transformation fund for fire and rescue authorities in 2015-16.

There is still scope for fire and rescue authorities to make sensible savings, such as through reforms to flexible staffing and crewing arrangements, better procurement; shared services, collaboration with emergency services and other organisations on service delivery and estates, sickness management; sharing of senior staff, locally-led mergers and operational collaborations, new fire-fighting technology, preventive approaches and working with local businesses.

The Government will make no moves on mutualisation that would lead to privatisation. We continue to support fire and rescue authorities in exploring new and innovative ways of delivering their services to their communities, such as through locally-led mutuals, and we keep under consideration the best way to do this within the legal framework.