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Fire and Rescue Services (National Framework) (England) Order 2004

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

My Lords, I shall try to deal with some of the points briefly and I shall write to noble Lords about those matters I do not cover. I shall first address the points made by my noble friend Lord Wedderburn because they are the easiest to answer. My noble friend has the old document. The document that we are debating tonight for approval was published in December 2004 and relates to the 2005-06 framework. My noble friend was, I believe, referring to the 2004-05 framework.

The order lists the principle differences between the 2004-05 and the 2005-06 frameworks, which are minor. The changes have taken into account responses to the consultation. There was no justification for a regulatory impact assessment on the order, because none of the interests was affected—however, I shall check on those points.

A separate consultation on the pension scheme started on 13 October and finished last week on 14 January. I can assure my noble friend that these issues are receiving full consultation. There is ongoing work on the setting up of the new Joint Industrial Council, although that is not the subject of this document.

On the points raised by the noble Baroness, I thought we were revisiting the referendum, although the points were legitimate. The referendum was lost and that is water under the bridge. There is no prospect of elected regional assemblies, but that does not mean that there is no need to do things regionally.

On Firelink, which is the new radio system, the contract will be signed around May 2005. There will be competition to ensure a value-for-money outcome. There will be no costs to fire authorities in 2004-05 or in 2005-06. The capital costs are being met by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, so there is no additional cost to fire authorities. The Government are meeting the costs of operational continuity to ensure the existing systems work in the interim. On commercial competition, it is subject to the procurement rules for fair and open competition. It is not a secretive issue.

The noble Baroness asked why the regional management boards have been asked to draw up regional human resource strategies. The reason is that there are considerable efficiencies—we made that quite clear—to be gained by co-operation and working on human resource issues, including training, recruitment and equal opportunities. That is why we have asked authorities to draw up strategies so that they can jointly achieve those efficiencies.

I was also asked why a regional structure is still being demanded. The regional management boards are required to deal with the six issues identified in the White Paper. Those are the specialist services, resilience, human resources, training, procurement and the regional control centres. So the regional approach is about helping the service to work at the most appropriate level: at local level, at district level, at sub-regional level or at regional level.

The noble Baroness asked me how we can respond to the consultation document on fire control in a short space of time. The consultation document was issued late, but the full consultation period of 12 weeks was allowed, so we did not cut any corners and there was no reduction in the consultation period.

I was also asked about how the boards are able to make decisions when the full business case will not be published until mid-2005. The outline business case does not have final figures. The full business case will be published later this year, when we shall have full and final figures. All the authorities will be consulted on the final version and they can use that to set their budgets.

I regret to say that I do not have an answer on caller location, which is a fair point as it was mentioned in the debate, nor on the joint inspection process under the regulations. I shall seek further and better particulars on those points and I shall write to all noble Lords involved in the debate.