New Clause 5 — Regional Management Structures

Part of Fire and Rescue Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 15th March 2004.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 7:45 pm, 15th March 2004

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Dhanda that there is no better place in which to continue the experiment than the Gloucester tri-service centre.

Let me repeat what I said on Second Reading. In many respects this has been seen as the most controversial part of the Bill. Although we had our differences in Committee and although there have been disagreements about emphasis, there has been a good deal of consensus. It is about evolving change, and the same is true outside of this place. Both management and those working in the service have to a large extent agreed on the best way to make progress.

However, this issue gives rise to some controversy, and I reiterate what I said on Second Reading. I have no fear about the way in which regional management boards would operate, in terms of the degree of strategic thinking and the need, in these days of terrorism and counter-terrorism, to consider how best we can operate and deploy our forces, but if we are talking about the making of decisions at a local level, the provision is not appropriate. Given the Gloucestershire experience—as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, the same attempt is being made elsewhere with varying degrees of success—it is somewhat short-sighted to throw everything away, in the hope that we can improve delivery by assuming that the regional structure is the only structure. There are all manner of problems in the south-west, but they are not just a south-west phenomenon; they are likely to arise elsewhere in the country. The strategic direction is right, but operational delivery, including the most important elements of call centre work, should remain as local as possible. We need also to consider how to improve the relationship between the three emergency services.

We must also consider the system of accountability. I make no apology for saying again that if we are to do the job properly, we must begin by considering the three emergency services with a blank sheet of paper. What is the best form of accountability? If the Opposition are arguing that accountability is best fulfilled through a modified police authority system, they can count me out because it does not work. We have too many authorities and in many respects we have the worst of all worlds. People are appointed as part of their county councillor functions, and magistrates are appointed through a system that anyone outside the political classes would find difficult to explain. Such authorities do not consist of happy people, and if Gloucestershire is anything to go by, the rate of inflation of police expenditure is far greater than that of any other authorities.