Back on Monday there was a call from Mary Kelly Foy who is the Labour MP for Durham (so one of the North East MPs) for funding for Fire and Rescue Services across the whole of the UK which she submitted in an Early Day Motion document. I wrote about it here. The document can be obtained from here and on the same day that she submitted it Zarah Sultana who is the MP for Coventry endorsed it. The following day another eight MPs endorsed it which made it formal and then on Wednesday another 18 MPs signed it up. On that same day there was a debate set out in Westminster Hall at 4.30pm by Sharon Hodgson who is the Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West. Sadly Sharon has not signed the EDM but her her debate was called “Fire Services: North-east England” and it can be obtained from here. The opening comments from Sharon Hodgson began with the following text as part of a much longer comment
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered fire services in the North East.
I am very grateful to see this important debate so well attended; it could not be about a more deserving group of people. Like all our emergency services, our firefighters run towards danger while the rest of us run away. They have always kept doing their job, coming to our rescue and keeping our community safe. It is our job, as politicians, to ensure that they have the money and resources to do so.
Unfortunately, it has been hard to say that the Government have done that job properly for the last 12 years. I have been an MP for all those 12 years—for 17 years, actually—and I have spent a lot of time warning, throughout austerity and various debates, often in this very Chamber, about the impact that Government cuts would have on local fire services and their ability to maintain service levels and protect us.
In 2012, I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about fire and rescue services. I warned that
“budget reductions will hit the poorest areas hardest… services will have to be cut. That, of course, is after preventive services have been cut to the bone.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 84WH.]
In 2018, I raised the issue again in another Westminster Hall debate, talking about how areas with high levels of deprivation, such as Washington and Sunderland West, had a higher risk of fire-related deaths, and needed a fair funding settlement. At the time, I spoke to Chris Lowther, our chief fire officer at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service. I told Westminster Hall in that debate that
“He is doing everything within his power to manage the resources currently available, in a way that guarantees the safety of my constituents, and everyone across Tyne and Wear.”
Like many chief fire officers across the country, he did an impossible job, cutting back on everything he could in order to keep the service running safely. But he warned that if there were further cuts it would be difficult to say, hand on heart, that Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service would be able to provide a safe service.
One of the MPs who participated at the debate was Mary Kelly Foy and also Grahame Morris and Ian Lavery who have both endorsed the EDM. There were a total of 14 MPs who have taken place in the debate and one of them was Sarah Jones who is the Labour MP for Croydon Central. Along with her other comments she added this text
At the height of the pandemic, the Conservative-controlled East Sussex Fire Authority tried to push through sweeping cuts. I was pleased to play a small part in those cuts being dropped. Cornwall’s fire service told me that the Government’s mismanagement of the new contract for our 999 and radio services—called the emergency services network—has put one of its vital centres at risk of closure, while leaving it with an outdated radio system that often breaks down. Will the Minister tell us what on earth she is doing to tackle that extraordinary waste of public money, which is costing each of our fire services literally millions of pounds? It is a shocking example of incompetence in the Home Office.
Later on the Minister who is Sarah Dines did respond marginally by stating
Let me turn to some of the specific points made in the debate, starting with protection and prevention, to which Mrs Hodgson referred. The Government recognised that additional capacity was required and have provided an additional £50 million. Since 2019-20, that money has been funded to assist increases in capacity and capability in protection teams, which has delivered an increase in the number of staff.
And so a comment came from Alex Cunningham who is the MP for Stockton North
In Cleveland, the fire and rescue service faces inflationary pressure of £145 million, and there is no chance at all of finding further cuts. Either we put the public and industry at risk or the fire authority goes bust. Which would the Minister prefer?
So Sarah Dines responded with
There are many concerns in this regard. However, I have the utmost faith that local fire and rescue services will be able to work in a way that does not put the public at risk, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument.
The Government have delivered an increase in the number of staff working in protection, and an increase in the skills and qualifications of those already there.
Let us hope that in the next few days that more MPs will sign the Early Day Motion that Mary Kelly Foy has set up and that MPs across the whole of the UK will speak up about the Fire and Rescue Service requirements.