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Fire Services: Funding and Pay

Volume 636: debated on Monday 26 February 2018

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 the process.

Firefighters go into burning buildings to save lives. They are professional, compassionate heroes who put their lives at risk to save our families. Can the Minister look every one of them in the eye and tell them it is acceptable that they have received a pay cut in real terms?

What I say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I do apologise—man flu. What I say to the hon. Lady is that the Government are determined to make sure that firefighters, who do difficult, dangerous work—as we have seen today in Leicester—get fair pay for their work. It is also very true, as she suggested, that over recent years they have been asked to make sacrifices as part of the contribution to getting on top of the deficit we inherited from Labour.

Active pay negotiations are going on between the employer and employees at the moment, which we are watching closely. It is for them to sort out. We believe that fire authorities have the resources to make an appropriate offer, but we are watching the situation closely and engaging with them. If we can help, we will, but we need to see a business case for that.

Last night’s fire in Leicestershire, in which five people sadly lost their lives, once again highlighted the bravery of our firefighters. The number of firefighters has been cut by 11,000 since 2010, and their wages have seen a real-terms cut. The current level of un-earmarked reserves equates to just three weeks’ operating costs, at the same time as deaths in fires have increased. I ask the Minister to reconsider the levels of funding and resourcing for our fire service. There has been praise today for our firefighters. When will the Government pay them a fair wage for the courageous work they undertake?

No one disputes the courageous work that firefighters do: we saw it at Grenfell and we saw it yesterday in Leicestershire. The point is that active negotiations are going on between those who are responsible—employer and employee. Central Government do not have a role in that process, unless we are called in for additional support.

The hon. Lady mentions reserves. Labour is in denial on this. The fact is that the fire system, which claims to be short of cash, has increased its reserves by £288 million since 2011. Reserves can only be increased by not using the money received, so our question to the fire service is, “Tell us what you’re going to do with the public’s money.”