Davis gives Tory view on fire regions

DAVID DAVIS, who shadows the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister for the Conservative Party, gives his response to proposals for the regional reorganisation of the fire service.

DAVID DAVIS, who shadows the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister for the Conservative Party, gives his response to proposals for the regional reorganisation of the fire service.

WE have just suffered an unnecessary year-long fire dispute bringing great risk to the public at time of national hazard, excessive stress on the armed forces who were made to fight fires as well as wars and financial costs to the taxpayer of £100 million or more. But out of this we have got an opportunity to reform.

This reform should be able to deliver a saving of lives upwards of 300 per year. It should concentrate on implementing judgements based on what's best for fire safety. Instead the Deputy Prime Minister is set to use this as an opportunity to prop up his unpopular plans for Regional Assemblies.

The Deputy Prime Minister has announced that he will move control of fire services from local authorities to his proposed regional assemblies. This is not surprising given the stark contrast between Labour and the Conservatives on this issue.

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Whereas we want to decentralise and push power down to communities, Labour want to centralise and drag power up. Whereas we want to protect the rights of individual communities to determine what suits them best, especially in rural areas, Labour are happy for amorphous bodies, remote from the electorate, to make in this case, vital, matter of life or death decisions affecting people hundreds of miles away.

There cannot be a clearer example of regional government being centralising rather than decentralising, than what John Prescott is proposing.

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Moving control of fire services to proposed regional assemblies will see, for example, the Fire Service of Hertfordshire amalgamated with that of Suffolk and Oxfordshire's and with that of Kent. This will not ensure decisions regarding resource deployment and fire safety are taken with local requirements in mind, nor will it reassure those who are concerned for the future of their local fire services.

Local communities, facing the closure of their local fire station, will not feel they have been properly consulted, if these decisions are made at a regional level. Yet again, this Government will move power up and away from real local control.

Regionalisation will particularly harm the interests of rural communities which will be subsumed into the urban centres.

Rural areas deserve services of equal quality to urban areas but, under this Government, rural areas have seen their specific needs neglected. They have already lost their shops, pubs and post offices. The Deputy Prime Minister must guarantee that rural areas' fire services will not suffer as part of this modernisation process. This guarantee will be almost impossible to make if amorphous regional bodies, desensitised to the needs of the rural community are calling the shots.

The way other countries have addressed the issue of reducing the number of lives lost from fires is by very specific preventative measures which are tailored to the area concerned.

The approach is very different in big industrial city centres to what it might be in rural villages and is very specific to the character of the area concerned. This approach is much better carried out with fire brigades organised on a county basis as they are at the moment, than through a ludicrously distant regional fire authority.

I have one question for John Prescott before he rushes ahead with his plans – Does he really believe that the decision to call out retained firefighters to remote rural areas in Rickingfield Inferior or Walpole in Suffolk, is best taken by a control room in Cambridge?

Conservatives want a fair deal for the people of East Anglia. That is why we will fight John Prescott's desire to take control of our fire service from real local decision-makers. His plans are unfair, unrealistic and overly expensive. And if he has an ounce of common sense, he would drop them now.

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