Louise recently brought Lyn Brown MP, Labour’s Shadow Fire Minister to Thornaby Fire Station to consult the fire-fighters about options for the future of the service under a Labour Government.
Lyn has travelled around the country meeting as many Services as possible to seek their views.
The Fire and Rescue Services are facing a real financial challenge.
By the end of this financial year, Fire and Rescue Authorities in England will have seen a 22.5% reduction in central Government funding since 2010.
Whilst we need to do more with less across a range of vital services, what is extraordinary in this case is the total abrogation of leadership by this Government and by the last two Fire Ministers.
They have a lot to say about greater efficiencies but nothing by way of a vision and no attempt at strategic oversight. They have washed their hands of responsibility.
Individual Fire and Rescue Services have been left to deal with each annual cut without recourse to any over-arching national strategy to deal with risk and resilience.
The way Ministers have handled the ongoing dispute on pensions has been shambolic and deeply irresponsible. There is a real need to urgently get around the negotiating table.
We know the pension offer is not the only possibility within the amount of money that the Treasury has set aside for the scheme. The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already negotiating alternative proposals and managing to avert strikes. These potential deals were arrived at within the same cost envelope but remove much of the cliff edge that would see firefighters lose over a fifth of their pension if they retire at 55.
This demonstrates that the problem is unwillingness to compromise rather than an inability to come up with a better offer. Our fire-fighters spend their lives protecting their communities and deserve to be treated properly at retirement.
Louise is supporting the fire fighters in their pension fight.
Labour’s Lyn Brown MP has made it clear to the FBU that as Fire Minister her door would always be open and she wants to work with them to resolve the crucial pension issue.
A Labour Government will not be able to find additional resources in straightened financial times but we will provide leadership, responsibility and partnership. A strategic approach which understands that risk must underpin any change, and that supports Fire and Rescue Services to develop a safe, cohesive, and sustainable development in the face of tighter public spending.
We will introduce a statutory duty on the Fire and Rescue Service to respond to flood incidents, with the express purpose of providing clarity and increasing safety. Services are already carrying out flood and water rescue and the frequency of flooding has increased. It is time it became a statutory duty as it has been in Scotland since 2005 and Northern Ireland since January 2012.
We emphatically reject both partial and full privatisation of Fire and Rescue Services. It is public safety that drives development in our service, not the pursuit of private profit.
Increased collaboration between blue light services is certainly important but we do not think the idea recently floated by the Home Secretary, of placing Fire Authorities under the control of Police and Crime Commissioners is truly directed to this end. Labour will scrap PCCs altogether.
With further spending cuts, no change is not an option. Reform must focus on how best to protect the frontline and enable fire-fighters to continue to provide efficient and safe emergency responses.
Local Services across the country are already confronting the financial challenge in diverse and often innovative ways but a salami-slice approach is not sustainable and we must put more radical options on the table if we are to really put safety and the frontline first.
Given the financial climate it is understandable why a small number of Authorities have attempted to merge with neighbours. However we believe a coordinated approach is needed with proper strategic oversight, ensuring there is a rationale behind integration which takes into account local and national risk and resilience. The Government has neglected this, Labour will not.
Lessons can be learnt from Scotland and Wales where this has already occurred. We need to explore the number of Services which permitted the most efficient and the safest operational model.
Whatever model of reform is adopted, the aim must be to increase local accountability and pursue greater local input into services.
Labour will be consulting across the Fire and Rescue Service and across the sector on how we can build that service. Lyn’s visit to Thornaby was part of this process.
Our fire fighters are the very best of public servants and deserve our full support.