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Fire and Rescue Service: Remuneration

Volume 631: debated on Monday 20 November 2017

6. What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on additional funding to increase the remuneration of people employed by fire and rescue services. (901910)

It is the responsibility of the National Joint Council to consider what pay award is appropriate for firefighters in England; central Government have no role in this process. The 2017-18 firefighter pay negotiations are still under way.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but National Audit Office figures show that 30% of central Government funding has been cut from the fire and rescue service since 2011, with a further 20% cut by 2020. Basic pay for firefighters is nearly £3,000 less in real terms than it was in 2010. Is it not time that the Government stopped hiding behind cash-strapped authorities and stumped up the cash that these vital public servants deserve?

With respect, there is a reason why we have fewer firefighters in this country: at the last count, we had had 48% fewer fires over the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman talks about a cash-strapped service, but he will be aware that single fire authorities such as the one in his area have had multi-year settlements and are part of a system that is sitting on £616 million of reserves—and that figure has grown by 153% since 2010.

When he looks at the budgets for fire workers and police, I urge the Minister to consider the example of Essex, where the police and crime commissioner is now responsible for both those entities and is able to drive forward efficiencies and savings, which will be better spent if that policy is rolled out elsewhere.

I thank my hon. Friend for again giving me the chance to congratulate the Essex leadership, and particularly Roger Hirst, on seizing the opportunity that this Government provided to bring together the governance of fire and police. We did that not only in the name of better accountability and transparency, but to provide the opportunity to continue to pursue savings and efficiencies on behalf of the taxpayer.

18. I met the Humberside fire chief just a couple of weeks ago. He knows that all his firefighters deserve a pay rise, but he was really worried that he would not have the money in his budget to pay for that. The Minister talks about the reserves that fire authorities have, but the fire chief also mentioned the fact that the Humberside fire service, like the services further down the coast, no longer deals with fires at sea because it does not have the money to pay for that. I would like a commitment from the Minister that the Government will fund the money for the fire service and look into the problem of fires at sea not being covered. (901922)

I completely share the hon. Lady’s desire to see firefighters get a fair pay settlement. I defer to no one in my admiration for them, not least because I have met a number of the firefighters who did such heroic work at Grenfell Tower. The fact is that the Government will always listen to the evidence. With respect to making a case for fresh Government funding, the challenge for the fire service is to provide the evidence that it cannot manage the demand in the system now and explain its plan for reserves because, as I have stated, reserves in the fire system have grown every year since 2010. That is not the action of a system that is strapped for cash.

May I correct the Minister, because Home Office figures show that fire deaths are actually up 17% in the past 12 months? He will also be aware that funding for local authorities has been slashed. Firefighters risk their lives every day to keep us safe and they have seen a real-terms cut in their pay every year for the past seven years. They cannot spend warm words from the Minister. The National Fire Chiefs Council, the employers representatives on the National Joint Council and the Fire Brigades Union all agree that to increase firefighters’ wages additional central Government funds must be provided, so when will the Minister stop passing the buck and start taking responsibility for this own actions?

In response to that artificial rant, let me state the facts again: over the past 10 years, the total number of fires attended by fire and rescue services has more than halved. I am not offering warm words: the taxpayer is investing £2.3 billion of public money in the fire service. If there is evidence that that is not enough, we will always listen to it, but the first question we will ask is, “What are you doing with your reserves?”