Speech: Funding of Fire and Rescue Services
Wednesday 5th September 2012
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am deeply honoured, Mr Bayley; thank you very much. I will make a few remarks in the limited time available, although I know that I have another 30 seconds. I had prepared quite a long contribution, but I will concentrate on a few points.
I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing the debate. The number of Labour Members attending and the quality of the contributions indicate how important and timely it is. I do not envy the task that the Minister faces, but this is an opportunity for him to answer some of our questions and to take a number of our concerns on board. In the spirit of generosity, I wish him well in his new post.
I place on record my thanks to the men and women of County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service, and my appreciation of the excellent work that they do not only to tackle fires, but on County Durham’s two major roads—the A19 trunk road and the A1M. They deal with many hazardous road traffic accidents. We had a meeting last night with the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water, and the fire brigade played a tremendous part after the exceptional weather events and flooding in the north-east. It is very much on the front line of public services. I remind the Minister of the promises made about protecting the front line. If the fire and rescue service is not the front line, I do not know what is.
On equity and fairness, the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) suggested that it is not just an issue of metropolitan and shire counties. I tend to agree, as the situation affects not only metropolitan brigades, but my own authority of County Durham and Darlington. Our grant reduction for 2011-12 and 2012-13 was 11.76%, and under the arrangements that are being considered, we face cuts of 14% to 15% over the next two years.
Let us compare that with more affluent areas. While I do not suggest that there is no risk involved, Oxfordshire’s fire and rescue service faces cuts of three firefighters and two staff. By contrast, Durham is looking at losing 40 firefighters and 20 staff. In the neighbouring metropolitan areas, Cleveland is looking at losing 180, and Tyne and Wear more than 100, in addition to 70 staff. The cuts are not being applied fairly and equitably.
I appeal to the Minister to consider how the cuts are being applied. To echo the comments of hon. Members from other parts of the country, in many authorities such as mine, extensive efforts have already been made to produce efficiencies, so the efficiency argument does not apply. We have already consolidated the number of fire stations and taken a risk-based approach to assessing appropriate fire cover. In my area, we have double the national average area of fire cover for each station. Our response times—perhaps this is the same as in Suffolk Coastal—are also double those of metropolitan areas. We cannot afford for that position to worsen.