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Fire and Rescue Response Times

Volume 620: debated on Monday 23 January 2017

We published the latest statistics on average response times to fires in England on 19 January, and they show that response times continue to increase gradually. There were reductions in some areas, such as house fires and commercial buildings fires. Fortunately, because of the good work done by the fire and rescue service, fires and fire-related fatalities have been on a downward trend for a number of years, reaching historically low levels recently.

I thank the Minister for his response, but continued cuts are having a profound impact on firefighter and public safety. Response times have increased, there are unsafe numbers of staff on appliances and those appliances are having to travel further afield, which means that they are reaching more serious fires. Does the Minister agree that these cuts have gone far too far?

The hon. Lady mentioned house fires. There has been a reduction in the response times to fires in homes and, indeed, in buildings more generally. In terms of the finance issue that she raised, there has been an increase of 154% in fire service reserves over the last few years. In the fire service in her constituency, the reserve has increased from just over £7 million to some £29 million, all of which is money that can be used to find those efficiencies and provide those frontline services.

Fire-related deaths have gone up by 15% in England and 14% in Scotland over the last year. That is clearly unacceptable, and it must surely send a signal that the cuts have gone too far. Will the Minister look at the funding and at reorganisations, which are taking fire crews further away from the areas that they need to service?

As I said in response to the previous question, the response to house fires and building fires has improved in the last year. It is important that we all bear in mind that any death as a result of fire is unacceptable. We all want there to be no deaths whatsoever, which is why the work done by fire authorities, and the health and safety work in our homes and on products over the years, which has improved safety, is important. We must always stay vigilant, which is why people should have, and test, smoke alarms. I say to all fire authorities that they must be sure to find those efficiency savings, so that they can make sure that the money is in the frontline to deliver for people every day.

According to the Home Office’s own figures published last Thursday, deaths from house fires are up by 18% on previous years and response times are slower. Fire crews are being deprived of resources and fire service jobs are being lost. Will the Minister now accept that the current round of cuts is putting the public at risk and demoralising hard-working, dedicated fire officers?

As I said earlier, we need to be very clear about the actual figures. The reality is that there has been a 52% reduction in the total number of reported fires over the last few years. Fire-related fatalities are down 22%, while response times to house fires and building fires are also slightly down and improved. We need to be vigilant on this, but we also need to be clear about the facts.