I am sure there is cross-party support for wanting our emergency services to make the best use of existing resources, and the Government are extremely active in encouraging greater collaboration, whether it be through innovation funding, the work of the Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group or legislation that enables police and crime commissioners to take on fire and resource governance where a local case exists.
As the Minister will know, Essex is a pioneer in this area, where Roger Hirst, our police and crime commissioner, has brought fire services in. Will the Minister consider allowing the pooling of capital budgets to enable better joined-up working of back offices?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Roger Hirst is doing a fantastic job in seizing the opportunity to get more out of existing resources, and I completely understand the point about capital budgets. There are restrictions in place for good reasons, but Roger and other PCCs can already use police and fire budgets to invest in shared functions, such as joint back offices, although both fire and police budgets need to make an appropriate contribution to the shared service.
One of the issues with capital budgets is that some services are selling their capital assets and then renting from another part of the service, which can lead to very imbalanced budgets locally. Does the Minister have a grip at the centre on the long-term impact this could have?
I recognise the point the hon. Lady is making. In taking through the enabling legislation in this area, we were careful to put restrictions in place to assure stakeholders in particular that it was not a takeover of fire budgets, for example. Restrictions are in place, and for good reasons, but we monitor the situation carefully and listen to representations on both sides of the argument.
Leicestershire police are based in Enderby in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the collaboration between Leicestershire police, the fire service and the other emergency services the other day demonstrated the hard work that our emergency services do in Leicester and Leicestershire?
I join the Home Secretary in his remarks about the performance of the Leicestershire emergency services. Leicestershire is an excellent example of where services are going the extra mile to explore ways of working together and making the best use of existing assets and resources. As they are public assets and public resources, there is a duty to make the most of them.
Merging services is yet another ploy to promote the Government’s austerity agenda: cutting one budget rather than two. For example, in Essex, the recently merged fire service budget is now being used to prop up the local highway plan, while the Essex service is forecast to lose £8 million between 2016 and 2020. Does the Minister agree that the Government are putting the future of the fire service at risk? If austerity is really over, will he tell the House when he will speak to the Chancellor about properly funding the service, based on community importance, rather than sporadic demand?
The hon. Lady could not be more wrong. We are not talking about mergers; we are talking about the imperative on those deploying public money to use it in the smartest possible way and to make the best possible use of the public resources at their disposal. It is about value for money, which of course the Labour Front-Bench team have no interest in at all.