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Fire Services: Overnight Cover

Volume 661: debated on Monday 10 June 2019

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on safety of changes to overnight fire cover by fire services. (911214)

20. What assessment he has made of the effect on safety of changes to overnight fire cover by fire services. (911230)

Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of their work to assess local risk and manage and allocate resources according to their integrated risk management planning process. What we have done is reintroduce independent inspection by asking HMICFRS—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services—to assess how effective each fire and rescue service is in responding to fires.

I thank the Minister for his response, but the reality is that Government cuts are having a dangerous impact on safety. If Tyne and Wear’s fire and rescue service funding does not increase, this year we could see overnight cover cut by 50% in South Tyneside, putting my constituents and our local firefighters’ lives at risk. When will the Government increase funding to protect our lives?

I know there are strong feelings about the funding of Tyne and Wear fire service because we had a debate in Westminster Hall, and I have subsequently met Chris Lowther, the chief, to discuss that. Our view is that the fire service has the resources it needs to continue providing what is acknowledged to be a good service underpinned by very high levels of reserves, but we are approaching a comprehensive spending review in which we will be looking to continue to make sure that the fire service has the resources it needs to do its very difficult job.

In the Minister’s response of 5 June to my letter about fire service funding he stated that all services had the capacity to respond to high-rise fires, yet the speed of the fire spread we saw yesterday in Barking was terrifying, and if that had happened at night people may well have lost their lives. Seconds count and seconds save lives; is the Minister truly convinced that he has done everything he can to keep people safe in their beds?

The whole House will understand the sensitivities of this subject, not least this week, and the fire was indeed extremely intense and unsettling. I congratulate the 100-odd firefighters who attended that scene on their success in getting the fire under control with no serious injury. In response to the hon. Lady’s point, yes of course I take this extremely seriously. I have received assurances from the fire chiefs that the current arrangements around integrated risk planning, the requirements around mutual assistance and the national resilience are fit for purpose, but if anyone has hard evidence to undermine that my door is open.

In Northamptonshire the fire service has been successfully integrated with the local police service, saving money on administrative overheads and providing more resources for frontline capabilities. Is the Minister going to encourage more such mergers?

The answer is yes, and I congratulate Steve Mold and the leadership in Northamptonshire on what they have done to show what can be achieved through really creative collaboration. This is not just about saving taxpayers’ money; it is also about exploring the opportunities to deliver a better service to the public.

We are approaching the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which, as Members will know, happened overnight. The Grenfell residents had complained about their treatment by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and had specifically highlighted the fire risks, but they were ignored. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that similar warnings from those who know most—the residents themselves—are heeded and acted on?

I think the right hon. Lady meant to say that it was the second anniversary, but of course the point she makes is a fundamental one that will be addressed in the statement that follows on the Government’s response to the fire, not only on future arrangements for social housing and the regulation of that, but to ensure that the voice of tenants is a louder one and a respected one.