What assessment she has made of the effect of changes in the level of funding on the work of the fire and rescue service.
Fire and rescue authorities have delivered significant savings since 2010, and fire deaths and injuries are at near historical lows. Authorities can still work smarter and reduce costs. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, single-purpose fire authorities’ non-ring-fenced reserves rose by 136% to £561 million. Those resources should be targeted at achieving long-term efficiencies.
Last year, an on-duty firefighter tragically took his own life at Stalybridge fire station citing a number of workplace pressures, which is part of a pattern of abnormally high firefighter suicides in Greater Manchester over the past few years. As fire and rescue budgets have been severely reduced, the job of a firefighter is clearly now even more demanding. What can the Home Secretary say to reassure me that the Home Office takes seriously the pressures that firefighters face and is working to ensure that firefighters do their job in a safe and well-supported environment?
First, may I send my condolences to the family of that individual firefighter in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? The suicide of any firefighter is a great tragedy, and of course we recognise the pressures and the difficult job that firefighters do. However, the number of fires they are having to be called to has been reducing—as I said, the number of fire deaths and injuries is now at near historic lows—and so the job of being a firefighter has been changing over the years. For example, firefighters are now doing more fire prevention work, which is very valuable work for communities. As we look forward to greater collaboration between firefighters and the police service, we can look to an even better service being provided for communities.
As I am currently on attachment with the Northamptonshire fire and rescue service, as part of the fire service parliamentary scheme, I have had the privilege over the past few months of seeing the increasingly close way Northamptonshire’s police and fire and rescue services are working together to deliver more effective emergency services, at a far lower cost. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to congratulate both Northamptonshire police and Northamptonshire fire and rescue service for the innovative and enthusiastic way in which they are facing these challenges?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in doing exactly that, as we see in Northamptonshire a very good example of the benefits collaboration can bring. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims was in Northampton last week to open a joint fire station and police station, which shows the benefits of collaboration, not only in saving money, but in providing a better service to the public.
Fire services for the six largest cities outside London will have had their budgets cut by half between 2010 and 2020, and thousands of firefighters will have lost their jobs and many fire stations will have closed. Firefighters do a superb job, as we know, but can the Home Secretary say honestly that community safety is not being compromised and that no lives will be lost as a direct result of the cuts
As I indicated, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of incidents; from 2004-05 to 2014-15, the number of incidents fire and rescue services went to declined by 42%. As I said in response to the question from Jonathan Reynolds, although firefighters do still find themselves being called to fires, a lot of their work is also about other services to the community. They are doing an excellent job but we want to see how that can be done even better and how they can work better in collaboration with the police, as we have seen in places such as Northamptonshire.
Cuts to the fire and rescue service have already cost us 6,700 front-line firefighters and cuts to the police have already cost us 12,000 front-line police officers. As the Home Secretary knows, reserves can be spent only once and there are significant, real cuts to come. With the public less well protected with every day that passes, will she admit that her cynical plan to merge both services will not protect or restore a single police officer or firefighter to the front line, or make a single member of the public safer?
Yet again, the Labour party goes down the road of thinking that the only thing that matters is the number of police officers or firefighters available. The hon. Lady talks about full-time firefighters, but may I pay tribute to those people who volunteer as firefighters in their community, as they are often overlooked when we examine the issue of firefighters? What matters is not just the number of people we have, but how we are spending the money and how we are deploying our resources. That is where the efficiencies we have seen and the collaboration we see will result in not just savings, but a better service to the public.