Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt outlines the key targets of the Conservative Party for the fire sector should they win the general election.
CONSERVATIVES PAY tribute to the importance of the work undertaken by our fire and rescue service and the bravery, dedication and professionalism of the men and women who work within it.
Of course, every bit of the public sector has had to contribute to paying off Labour’s deficit, including local government, which accounts for a quarter of all public spending. But fire and rescue authorities have coped well. The number of fire incidents in England has fallen from 342,000 in 2004-05 to 241,000 in 2009-10, and has continued to fall to 170,000 in 2013-14. The achievement of improving the service and its outcomes while making savings and maintaining strong reserves should not be underestimated.
There is still scope for fire and rescue authorities to make sensible savings, such as through reforms to flexible staffing and crewing arrangements; better procurement; shared services; collaboration with other organisations on service delivery and estates; sickness management; sharing of senior staff; locally led mergers and operational collaborations; new firefighting technology; preventative approaches; and
working with local businesses.
Sir Ken Knight’s review found huge variations in the way the 46 fire and rescue authorities in England operate and highlighted the scope for the services to find £200 million in savings while safeguarding emergency operations and protecting public safety.
His report highlighted the importance of collaboration with other local services in helping fire and rescue authorities transform the way they run, to meet the changing needs of communities. In particular, we are keen to increase joint working between the fire and other emergency services. We will continue to support and back the role of retained firefighters.
Industry has been playing its part too, and we are interested in how much more innovation and new developments from the sector can help and support the service. We do not agree with the proposal of the Labour Party to force top-down restructuring of fire and rescue authorities. We saw with their botched Fire Control project and attempted regionalisation of the fire service how such imposition just ends up costing taxpayers more money.
We will continue to support fire safety, including the award-winning Fire Kills campaign and ensure the provision of smoke alarms in all private rented accommodation and the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in high risk rooms.
I know that the issue of fire pensions has occupied the thoughts of many firefighters in recent months. The Firefighters Pension Scheme 2015 came into force at the start of April. The national employers have agreed to work with the Fire Brigades Union to ensure the fitness principles detailed in the national framework are incorporated into local policies. The dispute should now come to an end.
However, Conservatives are pledging to tackle the disproportionate impact of strikes in essential public services by introducing a more reasonable threshold in health, education, fire and transport.
Reforms to pension schemes were essential. People are living longer, with the average 60-year-old living 10 years longer now than they did in the 1970s. As a result, the cost of public service pensions has increased in real terms by around a third over the last 10 years and is now £32 billion a year.
The Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2015 will remain among the very best pensions available, with guaranteed benefits that are inflation proofed. We recognised that firefighters regularly undertake duties under tough conditions and that they deserve a good and generous pension.
Over the last five years, we have put our country back on the right track. Britain is now one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. We are getting our national finances back under control. This has not happened by accident. It is the result of difficult decisions and of patiently working through our long-term economic plan. Continued investment in our public services depends on a strong and growing economy. Now is a time to build on the progress we have made, not to put it all at risk.
Fire authorities and firefighters do a fantastic job every single day, keeping people safe and protecting property. Conservatives’ priority is to continue to work with local fire and rescue authorities, ensure we have a modern and responsive fire service, and safeguard this vital frontline service.
Penny Mordaunt is the Conservative Party parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth North and is the most recent Fire Minister.