HC Deb 09 February 1995 vol 254 c449
9. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the ability of fire authorities to carry out their statutory duties.

Mr. Howard

It is for each authority to set a budget that would allow it to comply with its duties under the Fire Services Act 1947.

Mr. Wareing

In response to that fully complacent reply, the Home Secretary should study the situation on Merseyside and throughout the country. On Merseyside, the shortfall in the Government's assessment of our needs is £2.9 million, even to stand still. If the authority were to carry out the Government's statutory growth requirements, the shortfall would be £4.7 million. How can the Government justify that? The Merseyside chief fire officer is saying that he cannot make cuts other than in pumping appliances and closing stations. When will the Government put people's lives before tax reductions and electoral bribes?

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman refers to my original answer, he will find that it was entirely factual, but if he disagrees with any part of it I shall be pleased to hear from him.

It is for the Merseyside fire and civil defence authority to set a budget for 1995–96, in the light of the criteria for council tax capping. That budget should allow it to comply with its statutory duties to provide fire cover.

Sir Donald Thompson

When assessing the exact amount of cake that must be divided among the fire authorities, will my right hon. and learned Friend take more carefully into consideration the topography of an area and its special needs?

Mr. Howard

I am certainly prepared to consider the point raised by my hon. Friend when we plan next year's standard spending assessment for fire authorities. My hon. Friend will know that-the Audit Commission has come up with a series of valuable recommendations of ways in which money can be saved in the fire service, and I am sure that all fire authorities will examine them carefully.

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