Provision of Fire services in Derbyshire
They work in a County that has huge variances; from the busy City of Derby and largest town of Chesterfield, other smaller urban bases and large swathes of rural, hilly and remote parts of the Peak District.
Firefighters enjoy the respect and admiration of us all, not just for their untold bravery that sees them run towards burning buildings whilst the rest of us urgently back away but also because of their amazing life saving work and the horrors we know they witness during Road Traffic Accidents.
Firefighters everywhere are admired but in Derbyshire alongside the geographical challenges that face our force, there are many causes for pride.
They have won awards for the standard of care they provide to citizens and have worked to identify individuals at greatest risk and provided additional measures to protect them. The numbers of fires have reduced in recent years due to their tremendously proactive approach to fire prevention made possible by their outreach work fitting smoke detectors and educating citizens.
But Derbyshire faces an unusually high level of fire deaths in comparison to other counties. In 2012-13; 10 people were killed in fires in Derbyshire (one of the highest in the country) In Derbyshire there have been five fires in the past 3 and a half years in which children have died.
Now Mr Speaker, we know that Derbyshire Fire Authority and indeed all services in Derbyshire are operating in the most extreme and difficult financial circumstances imaginable.
The Minister represents a department that I think has been the most cowardly in all of government, because of all the big spending departments it has been the one that devolves the most of its funding and meanwhile it has taken the largest share of the cuts.
So at a time when other departmental budgets have been squeezed, the DCLG budgets have been crushed. Passing on all of the tough choices of austerity to Council leaders and Fire authorities around the country. Leaving it to Council leaders to decide whether to cut libraries or social care, whether to leave potholes in the road or cut community safety budgets, to decide whether to cut back on firefighters or reduce the fire prevention work.
I find it nauseating to hear the Sec of state praised by the Chancellor for agreeing to take on the largest cuts when he faces so few of the tough decisions and leaves others to face the petitions and campaigns against them.
And lets look at what that means to Derbyshire Fire Authority, an authority that has already delivered £3m in efficiency measures from an efficiency programme started in 2010.
But the Authority face a 40% reduction in funding between 2011/12 and 2015/16, to a 24/7 service that will have around 60 full time firefighters on duty at any one time.
So when we scrutinise the changes proposed to the Fire Service by Derbyshire’s ‘Fit to Respond’ document it must be viewed in this appalling context. And the true architect of these cuts’ is the Minister, the sec of state and the PM who has chosen that the cuts to the fire authority should outstrip the cuts faced by almost any public service budget.
They could have made different choices, they chose to reduce the tax bill of million pound earners and wasted billions with their botched Royal Mail privatisation, their £3Bn NHS re-organisation has seen service levels fall while the budgets remain constant, I could go on, but politics is all about choices and they will answer for theirs when the day comes.
The impact on Derbyshire is stark- In the report’s own words it will see the service deliver ‘less for less’ and in the words of the Derbyshire FBU ‘we think that these proposals can in no way, give the service to the same level of resilience.”
At the moment a fire engine will be at a life risk incident within 10 minutes 3 quarters of the timeand at those deemed as most vulnerable in over 80% of cases. These plans would see this drop to 66%.
Last year they responded to 565 life risk incidents now a third (about 190 times) you would not see a fire engine within 10 minutes. Can you imagine Mr Speaker lives in danger and a 1 in 3 chance of the engine failing to turn up within 10 minutes.
The campaigns are starting up across Derbyshire to send the strongest message imaginable to the Fire Authority about the views of people in Derbyshire. In Staveley, in my and my Hon Friend for Derbyshire NE constituencies, people are campaigning to save the station that was built just three years ago.
I received an email today from Catherine Atkinson about the campaign that she and people across Long Eaton are waging to halt the closure of their station.
And of course in Chesterfield people are mystified and concerned about the plans for our town.
I was there as a Councillor for the Rother ward in Chesterfield in 2009 when the old Whittington Moor fire station was closed, and the new one was built at the Donkins roundabout, at a cost of £4.5 million.
We were told that it was a better venue for the service, closer to the motorway and to the area that had the most fires and when the Chesterfield retained unit was disbanded, the public were assured they would still be provided for by the two fire engines at Staveley and back up from Dronfield and Clay Cross. Under the new plans Dronfield and Staveley will disappear; and to allow the service to respond to these closures the brand new fire station will be moved a mile back up the road (I’m not making this up) to Whittington Moor, precisely where the original station was.
The Fire Authority tell us they want to spend £4.3 M replacing the £4.5 M station that still has its first coat of paint and unsurprisingly they will take a hit on the resale value. They estimate that a used fire station might get them a £1M but frankly I believe even that might be optimistic.
So where do these plans come from? Well Council papers show a variety of tough decisions ducked by Derbyshire County Council in the dying embers of its first Tory administration for 28 years. They left the Council sitting on a financial timebomb and left the tough choices until after the election. Was the consultation always designed to lead to this report? Certainly it was ready at the first meeting of the new Derbyshire Fire Authority and presented as the solution to the funding crisis that faced the authority,
The Fire Authority quote as their justification the response to the 2012/13 consultation launched by the Conservative Fire Authority shortly before the historic and huge Labour victory in Derbyshire in 2013.
This masterpiece of push polling included, as justification by the authority, that when the public was asked ‘if the service continues to face restrictions on its budget would you support the principle of matching the service’s resources to the level of risk in each area?”
Unsurprisingly 80% of the public responded to that extremely leading question by saying ‘yes’ but to use that as a justification for what we are discussing today is ludicrous.
Maybe if they had asked: “do you support us digging into the reserves to spend £4.3M on a new station to replace the £4.5M station that we build four years ago and moving back to precisely where we were before we started this nonsense” they might have got a different response.
But frankly Mr Speaker, I dont care where it came from, I only care where it goes now.
Its not just Chesterfield and North Derbyshire that has a major problem.
The Ascot Drive fire station had a £3 million refurbishment in March 2012, that will be closed. Buxton was opened in 2011, at a cost of £3.5 million, that will go. Illkeston was also only opened in 2009,its going to go.
The merger of the 3 stations in Derby would cost £1 million and it is stated that the overall outcome of building a new station and closing three would be cost neutral but at what cost to service?
The publication of the desired locations for the new stations enables the current owners of the land to significantly increase their sale price, costing the tax payer yet more cash.
Financially it is illogical, in service terms inadequate, it means 108 FEWER fulltime firefighters overall more reliance on retained firefighters and 30 Operational Community Safety Officers.
Where will these retained firefighters come from? On average it takes 6 months from the day of recruitment until a retained firefighter is fully trained and ready to fulfil their role. Working as a retained firefighter requires that individual to be within 5 minutes of the fire station location for 120 hours a week and the allowance they receive for this equates to around 50p an hour. There are already difficulties in recruiting and these changes are going to require a significant increase in recruitment. This proposal does not seem to have taken into account the impact on retention or the cost of recruiting all the replacements.
I have worked with the FBU to assess the impact on existing retained firefighters and it makes sobering reading
– For the current 13 staff that work at Duffield fire station ONLY 2 can make the 5 minute ‘turn in time’ for the new proposed station at Milford; the other 11 staff would need to relocate to keep their jobs.
– None of the Dronfield current retained firefighters are able or willing to be within the 5 minute parameter of Eckington fire station.
– Chapel en le Frith has 11 staff, NONE of whom can make the ‘turn in’ time or are willing to relocate nearer to Furness Vale.
– There is a similar story in New Mills, Alfreton& Ripley
Derbyshire Fire Service is offering a ‘relocation’ package, the FBU expect that many firefighters will not take it due to family or personal commitments.
In just 2011 the Emergency Cover Review done by Derbyshire Fire and rescue service stated that the current fire stations are in the right locations. Why would you move your family away from schools and work, when it isn’t your main job and decisions about the future locations of fire stations seem to change so arbitrarily and so quickly?
If these changes are implemented it will effectively mean a recruitment freeze for 10 years into the fire service as a fulltime firefighter. A huge deskilling of firefighters as a whole generation is told ‘no vacancies here’.
The location of stations, appliances and firefighters are crucial in response times. It is both the weight and speed of response that is most crucial in saving lives and preventing serious injury for both the public and firefighters. The fewer fire stations there are, the longer it will take firefighters to attend the incidents and the worse the condition of the fire.
There is also the risk of flooding as we know from the great floods of Chesterfield in 2007 when over 500 homes were flooded but mercifully no lives were lost, precisely the extreme weather which means help is needed in numerous places at once covering a wide geographical area across the county but centred on one service.
On the Sunday Politics Show the Prime Minister responded to a copy of the Derbyshire Times showing the scale of cuts facing us in Derbyshire by saying that: “I praise local councils for what they have done so far to make efficiencies without hitting front line services.”
That was (to put it kindly) a factual inexactitude of breathtaking audacity.
The front line is being hit, in the Police, in social services, in libraries, in Sure starts, in A&E and most certainly in the fire service.
No wonder the Conservatives have chosen to delete their no frontline cuts pledge from their website, they wont remove it from our memories as easily.
Could anyone claim the closure of 11 fire stations, loss of 16 fire engines and 108 full time firefighters is protecting frontline services!
This plan doesn’t just mean millions spent up front on the basis of savings in future, it doesn’t just mean millions spent just a few years ago will now go up in smoke; doesn’t just mean dedicated fire-fighters thrown out of work; doesn’t just mean years of experience lost and thousands to spend in recruitment costs, it means people in Derbyshire being less safe than they were.
In his response to a letter from my Hon Friend from NE Derbyshire, the Chief Fire officer admitted that the huge capital outlays were early action and would be funded by raiding the reserves to spend money today to save tomorrow. With the Labour party committed to a fairer funding formula for the fire service Derbyshire should rethink their plans, and members across the house should send the Minister the strongest possible message, these plans will reduce the service, will increase the likelihood of loss of life, will make Derbyshire people less safe and are illogical in financial and service terms. The people of Derbyshire and our heroes in the fire service deserve better than the cuts imposed upon them by this government, better than the vision for our service envisioned by this document, its time to start again.