With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 156, in clause 2, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
‘(8) For the purposes of this Bill, when considering whether a collaboration agreement would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of one or more emergency services that shall include the effectiveness and efficiency with which the emergency service is able to meet its duties under the mental health care concordant.’.
This amendment would explicitly enable a collaboration agreement to cover duties placed on emergency services by the mental health care concordant.
Amendment 169, in clause 2, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
‘(8) For the purposes of this Bill evaluation of the “effectiveness and efficiency” of emergency services includes, but is not limited to, the capacity of emergency services to respond to—
(a) major weather incidents, including flooding, and
(b) other major incidents, including terrorist attacks.’.
This amendment would require emergency services to consider whether a collaboration would improve its capacity to respond to major incidents, when considering whether such an agreement would be in the interests of effectiveness and efficiency.
Amendment 168 would ensure that the duty on emergency services to collaborate was carried out in the interests of both effectiveness and efficiency. Amendment 169 would require emergency services to consider whether collaboration would improve their capacity to respond to major incidents, such as flooding.
I tabled amendment 168 because the Bill places a duty on emergency services to collaborate in instances when collaboration would be in the interests of the relevant service’s “effectiveness or efficiency”. This might seem rather pedantic to the Committee, but there is a serious point: there cannot and should not be a trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness in our public services.
It is perfectly clear that the duty of collaboration must be in the interests of effectiveness and efficiency. Imagine a situation in which so-called efficiency savings could be made through collaboration, but where that collaboration would have an adverse effect on effectiveness, such as an efficiency saving that had a detrimental knock-on effect on response times. Any duty to collaborate must improve public services, not just cut costs.
We should not prioritise efficiency over the quality and effectiveness of public services, as that would ignore the fact that effectiveness and efficiency are inextricably linked. The “Oxford English Dictionary” definition of “efficiency” is:
“Fitness or power to accomplish, or success in accomplishing, the purpose intended; adequate power, effectiveness”.
Given that the “Oxford English Dictionary” definition of “efficiency” includes “effectiveness,” how is it possible for collaboration between emergency services to be in the interests of “efficiency or effectiveness”?
Sir Ken Knight, the much-respected former fire chief who wrote a report on the future of the fire service for the coalition Government, seems to get that point:
“Efficiency does not just mean doing the same for less, nor is it just about one-off cashable savings. It is an entire approach to service delivery, achieving the best possible service for the public.”
I doubt it.
Frankly, I worry that, under this Government, efficiency is synonymous with spending cuts. That is not good enough when it is targeted at a life-saving, trusted service.
Furthermore, there appear to be important discrepancies in the Bill. Clause 2(4)(a) places a duty on services to collaborate if
“the proposed collaboration would be in the interests of its efficiency or effectiveness”.
However, clause 2(4)(b) states that collaboration is required to be
“in the interests of its efficiency and effectiveness”.
First, will the Minister confirm whether he believes there is a difference in meaning between the two? Secondly, why is there such inconsistency?
Clause 3(1) makes provision that clause 2
“does not require a relevant…service in England to enter into a collaboration agreement if the service is of the view that the proposed collaboration would have an adverse effect on its efficiency or effectiveness.”
Let us follow the logic. Clause 2(4)(a) states that a proposed party must give effect to the proposed collaboration, as set out in subsection (5), if
“a proposed party is of the view that the proposed collaboration would be in the interests of its efficiency or effectiveness”.
No, it is not.
Let us imagine that the relevant services deem that collaboration would have a positive impact on efficiency, regardless of the impact on effectiveness. Under clause 2(4)(a), those services would be duty bound to collaborate. However, if the relevant services deemed that collaboration would have an adverse impact on effectiveness, under clause 3(1) they would not be required to collaborate. That gives rise to an absurd situation whereby a service can be both duty bound and not required to collaborate simultaneously. It is, quite simply, nonsensical.
It would be very efficient to close half the fire stations in the country and halve the number of fire engines. It would certainly save money, but it would not be effective in saving lives and buildings. It would undoubtedly increase response times. Should not collaboration be both efficient and effective, saving money if possible, while providing equal if not superior effectiveness in the service? I am sure that the Minister understands my logic. I hope that he will go away and have a conversation with his team and then come back to this provision, because the Bill risks prioritising spending cuts over an effective emergency service. It is inconsistent, confusing and ambiguous.
I know that the Minister cares deeply about the emergency services that keep us all safe. I know he believes that collaboration should always be done in the name of service improvement. I therefore hope that when he leaves here and has a cup of tea for his lunch, he will consider the amendment properly. I do not mind whether he accepts it today or uses it as a drafting amendment later in the progress of the Bill.
Amendment 169 would require emergency services to consider whether collaboration would improve their capacity to respond to major incidents, such as flooding. The Bill fails to create a specific statutory duty to collaborate on major incidents. We believe that collaboration can be at its most effective when militating against major risks and responding to the worst disasters. Our amendment would direct collaboration agreements towards such major incidents, particularly floods and—as is sadly pertinent—terrorist incidents.
Unfortunately, major incidents are on the rise. As the climate has changed, flooding has become increasingly common across the country. Although we have not suffered a major terrorist attack since 2005, I think we would all agree that the threat of terrorism still looms. MI5 has set the current threat from international terrorism in the UK at “severe”.
In December, we saw much of the north of England devastated by flooding. I know that this is not news to the Government. On
This winter’s example is not an isolated incident, nor is this a regional problem. In the winter of 2013-14, the south of England experienced devastating flooding. The Environment Agency reported that at least 6,000 properties were flooded, and damage to the rail network meant that a key transport link to the south-west was severed for many weeks.
Major incidents are not limited to flooding. We all remember 7/7 and the devastation caused on our streets in London. I am thankful that we have not seen another major terrorist incident of that nature. However, the recent atrocities in Paris and what is going on in Brussels today are clear reminders that we must remain prepared to deal with terrorist attacks in our major cities.
The Minister is well aware of the disaster training exercise that was carried out in a mocked-up Waterloo station two weeks ago. I really wish that I could have seen it. Firefighters and other emergency service workers carried out the UK’s largest ever simulated rescue to improve co-ordination and planning during a major incident. It was a practical demonstration of the range of demands on modern firefighters, paramedics and police officers.
Fire and rescue services’ responsibility to provide national resilience is set out in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and the national framework of 2013. Fire and rescue services are required to respond to several national and international risks, including extreme weather, terrorist threats and industrial incidents, as well as prolonged energy shortages or outages. The chief fire officers would welcome a statutory duty on resilience and the funding to support it, as the only thing for which they currently receive stand-alone funding is aerial search and rescue. That is simply not good enough.
Weather incidents are on the rise and emergency services must remain vigilant and prepared for the threat of terror, yet the mantra to justify cuts to fire and rescue services is that demand for the fire service is falling. The explanatory notes to the Bill argue that the relevant policy background is a “fall in incidents” to which the fire service responds, but we cannot even begin to measure demand on the basis of the number of times it is called out to deal with situations. We need our fire service to militate against the most severe risks and prepare the best response to those risks.
Equating demand for the fire service with call-outs, as this Government persistently do, not only overlooks the important work that our emergency services carry out in fire prevention, but fundamentally misunderstands the evolving role of the emergency services in the 21st century. There has indeed been a reduction in the number of fires in the home and in the number of fire deaths and injuries, and there has been a rise in the proportion of homes with smoke alarms from 74% to 88%, as was reported by the English housing survey. We must all welcome that important change. It is the result of fire and rescue services undertaking millions of home fire safety checks and installing fire safety products in homes, which began in earnest in 2004 with the installation of long-life smoke alarms.
Despite the focus on prevention, more than 2.5 million English homes remain without a smoke alarm, and the alarms installed in 2004 are, sadly, coming to the end of their life. Understandably, the fire and rescue services are revisiting homes and continuing to seek to reach the remaining 2.5 million-plus homes. The English fire and rescue service completed 747,990 home fire safety checks in 2012-13. I am sorry, but that is the latest year for which I have figures. The number of home safety checks peaked at 811,132 in 2008-09.
Fire and rescue services undertake other forms of community fire safety work, with 164,064 school visits, arson prevention work and youth diversion events, and 75,543 statutory fire safety inspections taking place in 2012-13. Fire safety education has become a standard feature in primary schools, with the support of fire and rescue services. All forms of community fire safety work have increased in quantity and sophistication.
Fire and rescue services are responsible for far more than responding to fires. They attend a wide range of emergencies, including road traffic collisions, floods and medical incidents. A Department for Communities and Local Government report in 2012 noted that there were 51,982 rescues and extrications of casualties by the fire and rescue service between April 2009 and September 2011 at road traffic collisions, other transport incidents, suicide attempts and other special service incidents. There are more than 20,000 rescues and extrications each year. The decline in the number of fires should not distract us from the continued important and valued life-saving role of fire and rescue services at such incidents.
Additionally, as we discussed earlier, the fire and rescue service is playing an ever more important role in attending medical incidents—termed first and co-responding incidents—at the behest of the ambulance service. That support is particularly important in rural and semi-rural areas, where it is difficult to provide a comprehensive and rapid ambulance service.
Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service attended 3,525 first and co-responding incidents in 2012-13, which is equal to 41% of its road traffic collision and special service calls. English fire and rescue services attended 14,688 first and co-responding medical incidents in 2012-13, including cardiac arrests, unconscious casualties, people with breathing difficulties and so on. The number of first and co-responding incidents attended by fire and rescue services is rising.
The fire and rescue service has a role to play in flooding incidents. The service needs to be able to mount a major response to incidents that can affect very wide areas of the country and last for many weeks, necessitating numerous rescues and evacuations. With climate change, the frequency of major floods and other forms of extreme weather is expected to increase. The fire and rescue service also retains the responsibility to manage major incidents, such as terrorist attacks or chemical incidents. All the evidence points to a continued risk of major terrorist incidents in the UK.
Given all that, there is a fear that our services seem under-prepared. The Care Quality Commission’s annual review of the London ambulance service found that major incident protocols had not been updated since 2012 and that some staff were not even aware of the protocols. Most staff had not been trained in major incident procedures, apart from in the rehearsals for the 2012 Olympics. The chief officers of the six metropolitan fire and rescue services warned recently that the UK’s resilience to major incidents is under threat. They warned the Government that,
“It’s no longer safe to keep cutting the number of firefighters, pumps, stations and equipment” in the face of the terrorism threat in our major cities. The Fire Brigades Union, the Police Federation and Unison wrote jointly to the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the Paris incidents, offering to work with him to see how they could best prepare for any attack in Britain. I understand that the Prime Minister told them he was too busy to meet. What a pity. It is time that the Government listened to the voices saying that our emergency services are not prepared for major incidents.
I know that the Minister will not try to say that one mock event in Greater London amounts to preparation, and I hope that he will at least consider amendment 169 and the use of collaboration agreements to foster co-operation that can tackle major threats. I hope, too, that he heard the hint earlier that I would like to be invited to any future events in which these incidents are mocked up, so that I can see them for myself.
I worry that the Government have fundamentally misunderstood the role and potential of the fire service, and have therefore failed to use this legislative opportunity to make a focus on major incidents a statutory part of collaboration agreements. I urge the Minister to think again. There is no more pressing example of the need for collaboration than the occurrence of major incidents. In this way, we can ensure that the Government are best prepared to deal with the growing threat of major weather incidents and the lingering danger of terrorism.
I urge the Minister to consider amendment 169 properly and not simply to dismiss it with the “not invented here” approach that is far too common in this House. Given that he wants to keep this country as safe as possible when major incidents occur, I ask him to accept the amendment as a positive contribution to enabling him to do just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Amendment 156 is a probing amendment; I will not divide the Committee on it. As I said on Second Reading, I welcome what the Government are doing through the Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983, in particular ensuring that people in mental health crisis do not end up in police cells. I have a little bit of sympathy for the police in terms of how they deal with such individuals. The police are not the appropriate people to deal with those in mental health crisis, but sadly they are sometimes the only ones available. The dedication of our policemen and women is such that they will not turn away people in that type of crisis. The purpose of my amendment is to probe whether we can get more collaboration between the police, the health service and other agencies, including local government.
In February 2014, the mental health concordat was agreed between the third sector, the police, local authorities and the NHS. It is important to read the joint statement, which states:
“We commit to work together to improve the system of care and support so people in crisis because of a mental health condition are kept safe and helped to find the support they need—whatever the circumstances in which they first need help—and from whichever service they turn to first.
We will work together, and with local organisations, to prevent crises happening whenever possible through prevention and early intervention. We will make sure we meet the needs of vulnerable people in urgent situations. We will strive to make sure that all relevant public services support someone who appears to have a mental health problem to move towards Recovery.
Jointly, we hold ourselves accountable for enabling this commitment to be delivered across England.”
I accept that there is no statutory basis for the concordat, which is a problem, but I think it is important to draw the Committee’s attention to the final sentence of the joint statement:
“Jointly, we hold ourselves accountable for enabling this commitment to be delivered across England.”
Well, currently there is no mechanism by which those organisations—I am not criticising any individual—are held accountable for delivering what they promised in the concordat. There is a desperate need for that.
The concordat’s aims are very good. I have seen some very good examples of joint working between all services, including the police, fire service, ambulance service, NHS and local authorities up and down the country. There are examples of mental health professionals being co-located with police officers and triage teams, and that is certainly working very well. In my local NHS trust, community psychiatric nurses are appointed in A&E because, unfortunately, A&E is one of the places to which people in mental health crisis turn because they are unable to get help elsewhere—even though, as everyone knows, that is the last place they need to be. Having a mental health professional has clearly helped in my local hospital by ensuring that people in mental health crisis do not sit around for hours on end getting no form of treatment.
I accept that this is not necessarily just a police problem; it cuts across other Departments including Health. The amendment questions whether we can use the Bill to put the concordat on to some type of statutory basis and to provide for a presumption that local authorities and others should work together locally to deliver the concordat’s aims, to which most people would sign up. Is the amendment about money? No, it is not. Properly implemented, it could save money. Time that the police spend dealing with people in mental health crisis is time that they are not spending doing other things that they are perhaps better qualified to do. Perhaps the Minister could look at this issue and talk to his colleagues in the Department of Health, so that on Report we can have an indication of how this operation could be enforceable. I do not think that it should fall solely on the shoulders of the police.
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority on this crucial issue. He makes the point about police time. The Oleaster centre in Birmingham, a collaborative venture between the NHS, the police and the local authority, has seen the average police time spent on a section 136 incident reduced from 14 hours to five hours. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a powerful argument, regarding not just appropriate treatment of those suffering from mental illness, but the efficient use of police time, for having such facilities nationwide? What he proposes would be very helpful towards that end.
I do. The example to which my hon. Friend refers is replicated in other parts of the country where the police have in many cases taken the lead, working jointly with the NHS to set up those facilities. They make the experience better for those individuals who are in crisis. As he rightly says, they provide a more efficient way to deal with police time. Without a provision to enable this, I fear we will do all the work in the Bill on changes to the Mental Health Act 1983, which I welcome, but end up saying, “This is what we want to happen but will it happen in practice?” The example in his constituency shows that where there is a will and local drive, this can happen. My fear is that we will get a patchwork quilt of provision across the country. It would be helpful if we could make co-operation to deal with these issues statutory. I will come to another point later when we talk to amendments relating to the Mental Health Act.
I commend the Government’s aim to prevent people in mental health crisis from going to police cells. However, unless there is alternative provision in place, that will not happen. The need to monitor what happens to individuals should be recognised. If we reach the point, which we all want, of having no one in police cells, but without the people concerned getting adequate care elsewhere, we will have failed them. I will address that point later. I am now interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
I say at the outset that I understand the intention and good will behind the amendments. I put my hand up to a typo where “and” appears instead of “or”, which will be corrected later.
I say to the shadow Minister that the duty in clause 2 would be subject to the restriction in clause 3. Clause 3(1) sets aside the duty to enter into a particular collaboration agreement if that agreement would negatively impact on efficiency or effectiveness. Therefore, the Bill specifically addresses the point she raised. I will not dwell on that because it is not a matter of semantics. She is quite right, but clause 3 addresses that.
On that narrow point. I have no idea why the shadow Minister was not invited to the brilliant exercise, which was the largest we have ever seen. I was not there either, although I had been invited, because I was at Didcot, for reasons colleagues will understand.
There have been numerous other exercises, including marauding terrorism exercises, which touch on some of the issues raised by the hon. Lady. I will endeavour to make sure that she is informed, unless there is a specific reason why that should not be the case—I cannot think of one at present. It would have to be me who said no, not a civil servant. The same applies to the shadow Police Minister.
May I gently take issue with the shadow Minister on the suggestion that we are not ready or capable of looking on? Actually, we do a fantastic job. When these types of things happen, the training kicks in and the type of people we have in the emergency services kick in. When I was at the marauding terrorism exercise, it was fascinating to see where the emergency services had moved to. The fire service was bringing out the casualties while the shooting was still going on, in an exercise scenario.
I have met the FBU and the Police Federation—I have obviously met the Federation a lot more, because I have known them longer—but I have not had the opportunity to meet Unison. If it invites me, I will do so. If it wants to sit in the same room and talk to me, I would be more than happy to do so. Normally, when the Prime Minister gets invited to that sort of thing, the invitation is moved through the system. I have no idea why that has not happened, but there is an open invitation. My door is open to all three representative bodies. As usual, my FBU badge is in my back pocket, as it has been, literally since the day I was in the fire service.
As the hon. Lady said, joined-up fire and ambulance services are already on the programme—these pieces of legislation are on the statute book. I think we are prepared and evolving. We are looking very carefully at what happened during the floods. I was in Lancashire and visited the areas that were particularly affected and listened to the front-line fire service operative say, “Well, we could have an inflation device on the back of our vehicle.” I have heard the calls for a statutory review. We are reviewing at the moment. We are reviewing how we did, but can we say at the outset what a fantastic job our emergency services did during the floods?
There are other areas where we need to make things work closer together, for instance in the utility services. For example, we need to ask if the areas around reservoirs can be drained down if we think a flood might take place, without there being concerns about whether enough drinking water was going to be available during the summer. That did happen in Lancashire, where one of the reservoirs flooded through the town. We are not ruling out that we would introduce legislation on flooding, but let us wait to see what evidence comes back. The Home Secretary and I will continue to look at that.
The conversations that take place outside the Committee Room are also very useful, particularly those with the hon. Member for North Durham. Not only is he very knowledgeable in this area, but he is willing to sit and talk to see how we can improve things. I have talked at considerable length with Opposition Front-Bench Members as well. We had a conversation about this before, because the concordat is not statutory. To make it statutory within a Bill would make it quite difficult—not impossible. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands, who is going to take through part 4, will meet the hon. Gentleman to see how we can improve this.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As Police Minister, I cannot mandate the rest of the Government. However, if we did not have the provisions in the Bill to say that we are not going to keep people who are mentally ill or going through a mental health episode in our cells, it would carry on as it always has under previous Governments and under ours. Someone has to say stop and the Home Secretary has said enough is enough. They will have to bring that capacity forward. We have fewer section 136s and 135s and a lot fewer of the cases that I used to experience, when people who were ill were taken to a place of safety in the back of a police vehicle. I once saw someone taken in the cage of a police riot van. It was completely inappropriate and it has to stop with us, with the police saying, “We are not the first port of call; we are the last port call. We will come, but we are not the first port of call.”
I welcome the Minister’s point. Our amendments are the grit in the oyster, in the sense that they are going to force others to improve facilities. Having seen different Departments when in government, I know that without some direction from the Bill, it will not happen. The Minister and his colleagues have great intentions and I pay tribute to him and to the Home Secretary for addressing this issue, but without something on the face of the Bill or some movement during the passage of the Bill, it will not happen.
Nothing would happen if we were not doing this. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. We are starting to drive this. An inter-ministerial group on that specific issue was formed during the last Government. It still sits and it will push on with this. I do not think that the amendment is necessarily the right vehicle, but I agree that we must push it forward. Otherwise, the health and social services will be knocking at the door, saying, “We’ve got nowhere else to go,” as we often hear.
I used to experience that when I was in the fire service, and it still goes on. I have been stationed with the police when it has happened. It is usually at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Social services phone up saying, “We haven’t seen Mary or Johnny. Would you go round and check on them over the weekend?” The answer must be “No, that is your legal responsibility, not ours.” I know that that is a development of what we were talking about, but it is exactly what goes on: “Would you go in and open up for them?”. It is a difficult area, but one that we must touch on.
All the areas in which we are talking about collaborating with police forces are devolved in Wales. I suggest that somewhere along the line, thought needs to be given to how such collaboration will work in that unique situation.
We have discussed that with all the devolved Administrations. This proposal refers to the concordat within England, because obviously that is devolved, but I do not think that any devolved Administration would not want to do what we are discussing. They might have a different mechanism for implementing it, but nobody wants somebody with a mental illness episode to be treated any differently from someone with a broken leg or other physical injury; hopefully we have moved on from that. That is what we are trying to do.
The shadow Minister has made a point on a couple of occasions about co-responding. This is not just about rural communities—thank goodness London is now doing co-responding through a pilot. I served in areas that were quite rural areas and in areas, like the M25, that could not be described as rural—it is more like a giant car park at most times. For one reason or another, the other emergency services often did not arrive for some time.
We want to save lives. That is part and parcel of what the emergency services do. Co-responding is critical to that, as is moving on, in training terms, way beyond some of the things that we have discussed today. For instance, in Hampshire, the service was desperate to get the necessary qualifications to give fluids by IV. We know from Afghanistan and Iraq that that saves lives.
I understand the theme, but I do not agree with the amendments, because I think that they are unnecessary. Sadly, yet again, I will oppose them.
I thank the Minister for his response. I have not been to see London since my early days, and my early stint as the shadow Fire Minister before the election, so I am grateful to him for letting me know about the pilot. I will get in touch with London so that I can find out more, because I am interested. I have also not been to Hampshire; I do not believe that I have been invited yet. I deliberately did not go to see the flooding. I felt that it was inappropriate for me to be a water tourist, and that I would merely get in the way, so I have not been up or down to flooded areas.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: neither of us should be at an incident. Having politicians there is dangerous. Once it is finished and we are starting to learn, the experience that she will get from the frontline is better than any briefing she will ever get.
The Minister is absolutely right, which is why I spent my time as shadow Fire Minister during my first stint popping up and down the country, going to many fire and rescue authorities in constituencies represented in this room. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I said to the people affected by flooding that when they had dried out, I would be grateful for the opportunity to come and talk to them, although I have not yet had an invitation. In my second stint as shadow Fire Minister, I look forward to renewing my request to be talked to and to pop up and down the country yet again, as part of this impressive, exciting and enjoyable part of my brief.
I am grateful to the Minister for being open to the idea of a statutory duty on flooding. We both know that professionals in the fire service have called for that duty since the last days of the last Labour Government, and I genuinely think that it would be welcome and useful. If nothing else, the fire service would welcome some kind of acceptance, understanding or acknowledgment of its work on flooding.
I have talked about major incidents, and the Minister tried to reassure me on that, but the chief officers of six metropolitan fire and rescue services recently warned that they feel that the UK’s resilience to major incidents is at threat. They genuinely believe that the reduction in plant and firefighters would make us weaker in our resilience to a terrorist threat. I do not want to ramp that up into a big issue—I am not fearmongering—but we all need to recognise that that is what our professionals are saying to us. Collectively, we do not want to get into a position where our fire services cannot respond to incidents, where they are needed.
I leave it at that. The Minister has been very generous, and very sweet in offering to invite me to the next big event, so long as the gift is in his hand and there is no other reason for me not to go.
The Opposition support the duty to collaborate, and thus we will not be voting against clause 2, but I take this opportunity to raise some concerns about the way in which the clause is drafted. Subsection (5) makes it mandatory for emergency services to enter into collaboration agreements when conditions are met, which is a move away from the successful programme of treating collaboration in communities as a voluntary, organic exercise among blue light services. As we have heard this morning, and as all Members will agree, excellent local collaborations have saved a number of lives. Collaboration projects are already happening between emergency services across the country, and we welcome that direction of travel. Well-designed, thought-through collaboration projects can allow for better and more comprehensive service delivery, saving on back-office costs so that resources can be diverted to the frontline.
That is all good practice. Much of the collaborative work that the Government wish to encourage is already happening, and it will continue to happen as pilots are evaluated and lessons learned. Our emergency service professionals are good people. They do not need to be told of the benefits of collaboration, and they are best placed to judge when collaboration is in the interests of their communities.
I do not have time to go through a whole bunch of examples—I could if I wanted to take up the Committee’s time—but I will mention a few. For Members who are interested in reading about further examples, I recommend the excellent “Beyond Fighting Fires” report by the Local Government Association, which contains a series of enlightening case studies. One case study is the safe and independent living initiative from Dorset fire and rescue service. In 2008, Dorset suffered 13 separate home fire deaths, having previously experienced just one or two a year. The Dorset service, understandably, wanted to know what was happening. It investigated thoroughly and found out that half the fires were caused by smoking and combustible materials and the other half were caused by electrical factors. All the deaths were harrowingly preventable. The service also found out that the majority of people who died were known to one or other of the public sector services.
The Dorset service acted on that discovery by calling together its partners and convincing them that collaboration was vital if the spike in deaths was not to become a predictable and preventable trend. The police, the NHS and other local authority bodies all signed up and now use a common risk assessment when they visit a client’s home. More than 600 referrals have been made to Dorset fire and rescue service through the safe and independent living initiative, and firefighters have referred nearly 1,000 residents to other agencies—an amazing quantity of vital preventive work that is only possible through collaboration between a number of services.
In Humberside, the fire and rescue service is helping to lessen the load on the ambulance service. Last year, 1,016 people aged over 65 were admitted to hospitals in Hull with injuries due to falls. Whole-time firefighters are the first port of call for those incidents, providing a quicker response for people who have fallen in their home, freeing up capacity for the Yorkshire ambulance service and making essential, life-saving checks of fire alarms, smoke hazards and fire hazards, as those are just the types of homes in which such hazards had increased.
When dad was alive, I would have welcomed the London fire brigade coming in and lifting him off the floor for each fall he had. I sat with him time after time for a couple of hours—at a push—waiting for an ambulance service that could physically lift him. My dad used to say that he was a bit like a sheep that had been knocked over. If someone just picked him up, gave him a shake and put him back on his feet, he would be fine, but laying there for that amount of time made him distressed, increased his anxiety and meant that he ended up hospitalised when, frankly, that did not have to happen.
Humberside fire and rescue service deals with 530 to 550 of those sorts of calls a month, which is nearly two thirds of the number of fire and rescue calls it deals with. It is only in its nascent stages, but the role of the fire service is being transformed. Local decision makers are already embarking on many innovative and successful collaboration projects, and they have done so without being told that they must by Whitehall. Although there may be a case for collaboration agreements, which could provide an institutional framework and impetus that help emergency services to continue and further good collaborative work, I think that this part of the Bill is largely superfluous. The Minister needs to be aware of some of the dangers in his approach of making collaboration agreements essentially mandatory.
The reason that the existing projects have been so successful is that they have been driven by needs identified in the local area. In Humberside and in Dorset, the fire and rescue services were responding to known local problems and working with an array of partners to sort them out. That flexible, local approach towards collaboration will become less effective by being mandated from Whitehall with pre-selected partners. The Minister needs to ensure that local actors do not come to resent collaboration projects as a central Government imposition and a distraction from the core duty of keeping the public safe.
I am concerned that mandatory collaboration agreements may put services at risk. For example, what would happen if Humberside fire and rescue service did not feel that it had the capacity to deal with Yorkshire ambulance service’s request for assistance to domestic falls, but felt compelled to do so anyway? I understand that clause 2(4)(b) is supposed to safeguard against that, stating that collaboration agreements must only be made when the proposals are
“in the interests of…efficiency and effectiveness” of a service. However, I wonder whether that is sufficient safeguarding. Once the Bill comes into force, emergency services will know that they have a centrally mandated duty to collaborate. It is part of how they will be judged by their various inspectorates and auditors and by their bosses at the Home Office. There is a danger that they will feel they have to collaborate, even when they do not have capacity to do so, simply to appease inspectors.
To be fair to the Minister and the Government, they appear to partially recognise that danger, given that they provide a series of qualifications exempting NHS ambulance trusts from entering into collaboration agreements. For example, clause 3(2)(a) states that NHS ambulance trusts do not have to enter into agreements if those agreements would have an adverse effect on their ability to exercise their emergency functions. Will the Minister tell us why the police force and the fire service have not been provided with analogous safeguards?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, as these things are already happening. In my local area in Durham, the fire and rescue service works closely with the police and ambulance services, particularly in co-location of appliances. For example, in Barnard Castle, which is in a rural area, the ambulance, fire, police and mountain rescue services work together, which improves the service but saves money for the estate.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of my visit to Durham fire and rescue service. I was really impressed by what they were doing. They were clearly cash-strapped, but went out to maximise their impact and save money where they could by collaboration. Their most important focus was on saving lives and improving services to the local area, and I was very impressed.
The clause gives the impression that under this Government there is a hierarchy of services, and that the fire service is the equivalent of Lepidus—that is, the least in the triumvirate. That is from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”—I did it at A-level. The Opposition believe that collaboration between the emergency services is a good thing. Providing the funds to encourage and support collaboration, and giving an opportunity to evaluate the collaboration and disseminate good practice, are essential. Providing an institutional framework for supporting further collaboration has some merit, but it is likely to be superfluous and I honestly believe that there are dangers in making that mandatory. Local experts, who understand their service and their local needs, are best placed to make final decisions about collaboration—just as they have been doing effectively over the past few years.
May I echo the points made by my hon. Friend? This is actually happening on the ground. As a former Minister, I have seen close up the tendency of this Government to think that all the pearls of wisdom are contained within Whitehall, when clearly they are not. As my hon. Friend says, in many cases this is being driven by cost. County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service, whose budget has been cut by the Government, has had to look at new ways of delivering services. However, the driver has not just been cost; it is also the recognition that, working together, ambulance, police, fire—and, in this case, mountain rescue—services can deliver a better service for the public. That public sector ethos is alive and kicking in my local area, where the public come first in terms of the service they give. If they can do things to improve that, it is all the better.
What would the Minister judge as collaboration? I accept that he might want to give examples of where that is not happening and the reasons why. In Durham, we have tri-responders: the police, fire and ambulance services. In a large rural county such as Durham it is not possible to have a physical presence from all three services in all areas, and they have worked together very closely. That has been driven not just by the police and crime commissioner but by other services working together.
What would be an example of failure? The Bill talks about co-operation, but to what level? Is this about the response to incidents? There are good examples of the co-location of services. In County Durham, it is not just about ensuring that we get more efficient use of estates. Things such as open days and the provision of public information, including to schools, are now being done on a joint basis by the police and fire. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the incidents that affect many of our constituents are not just pigeonholed as requiring a police response, a fire response or an ambulance response. Those things are working very well, so I would like to know what will be achieved with this measure. Can the Minister point to examples of where that is not happening and, if it is not happening, has he examined why? I have outlined the great work being done in County Durham. What would the Minister see as failure or as not meeting the co-operation target? Is he laying down from Whitehall, as seems to be the tendency of this Government, a framework that local PCCs and fire authorities have to meet if they are to meet this test? I think that, without that, what happens in different areas will be pretty arbitrary.
I represent quite a rural constituency in County Durham, although the Government have not recognised Durham as a rural county in their local government funding settlements, possibly because it votes Labour rather than Conservative. Responses that work in London may not work in rural areas such as County Durham. Providing the flexibility to allow local fire chiefs, local fire authorities, PCCs and the NHS to collaborate on what works best locally would be the right approach. If the Minister tries to direct from Whitehall a template that each area has to adopt, it will not work.
May I encourage the Minister not to listen to the representations from the Labour party? The whole point of the Bill is that it does not seek to put PCCs and fire services in the straitjacket of a definition driven from Whitehall. I hope that he will, in the spirit of the Bill, ensure that it is a localist, devolution Bill, rather than one seeking straitjackets directed by the Minister in Committee.
My hon. Friend may well be sitting in this chair in a couple of years’ time if he makes contributions like that, or in even less time than that. In a perfect world, this legislation would not be required. It would not be required if all the wonderful work that we hear is going on around the country was universally going on. One size does not fit all, but London probably is an example. The responsibility will not be with a PCC; it will be with the Mayor. We are passing the responsibility for fire services to the Mayor. How many fire stations in London are police stations?
The hon. Member for North Durham asked for examples. May I provide one from my London Assembly constituency rather than my parliamentary constituency? In Bexleyheath, the Bexleyheath fire station shares a party wall with a London ambulance station, which shares a party wall with a Transport for London bus depot, which is only a few yards from the Metropolitan Police headquarters. They all have separate cleaning contracts. They all have separate catering contracts. That is in an area where we have made a concerted effort to have more collaborative working, so I think that it is fair to say that this needs extra impetus. That is just one ultra-local example.
I am not going to stand here and argue that London does not have its problems, because quite clearly it has. One of the reasons why the London bit is in the Bill is because the existing London bit has not worked; there has been serious conflict, which has seriously damaged London’s ability to respond to the collaborative agenda as other areas of the country have. However, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham still stands, because I have not been anywhere else in the country where there has not been collaboration with fire and rescue services, and with other services.
Finally, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree that I will listen to Opposition Members and I will particularly listen to the shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for West Ham. The duty of collaboration is welcome; there is no doubt about that. I agree with my hon. Friend completely; that is why the duty is in the Bill.