What assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the level of Government contributions to public service pension schemes on the financial sustainability of fire services.
I am sure that we all want good public pensions to be affordable over the longer term; and yes, public sector employer contributions will have to rise, including those in the fire and rescue authorities. The Treasury has made clear that it will cover 90% of the additional cost in 2019-20, and following years will be covered by the comprehensive spending review.
The Government have not picked up their fair share of the pension fund contribution, which means that local authorities and fire authorities will have to pick up more. We have to pay the pensions. How do the Government expect fire authorities to maintain the increasing calls on their services, and to meet their target call response times, when they have to contribute extra funds that are not provided by the Government?
What I would say, with respect to the hon. Lady, is that the Treasury is requesting of the fire sector £10 million of additional funding; that is from a sector that will receive £2.3 billion in income and is sitting on almost £600 million of reserves. I think it is affordable, and I hope that she, like me, will welcome the announcement of her local chief fire officer Phil Garrigan about his intention to increase the number of fire engines and firefighters in Merseyside.
We have heard from the Government a number of times that austerity is over, yet this same Government are slashing their financial contributions to fire and rescue pension schemes at the same time as they plan to cut funding by £155 million by 2020. They are piling the pressure on a service which, after nine years of austerity, has fewer firefighters, fewer appliances and rising response times. When will the Minister end the dismantling of our fire service and implement a sustainable funding model to build a service fit for the challenges of the 21st century?
With respect to whoever is informing the hon. Lady, actually the core spending power of our fire system will increase by 2.3% in cash terms in 2019-20, and, as she is well aware, the system is sitting on £545 million of taxpayers’ money in reserves, a sum that has grown by 80% since 2011. It is therefore hard to argue that the system has been cash-strapped, but the hon. Lady has my assurance that the Home Secretary and I are absolutely committed to making sure that through the next comprehensive spending agreement the British public can continue to rely on a world-class fire service.