HC Deb 01 May 1996 vol 276 cc1144-5
14. Sir Russell Johnston

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the funding of the fire service. [26066]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Revenue funding of the fire service is the responsibility of the fire authorities. It is for those authorities to ensure that the budgets which they set are sufficient to enable them to comply with their statutory obligations.

Sir Russell Johnston

The Minister knows that the highland region considers that the allocation of funds for the fire service in the highlands is quite inadequate and does not take proper account of that spread-out rural area. In view of the Ministers well-known belief in open government, does he agree that it would be good if the structure and funding of the fire service were looked at by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is obviously up to the Select Committee what subjects it looks at. Grant-aided expenditure has been increased by 20 per cent. for the current year. None the less, the new fire board has substantially reduced its budget. That represents an abrupt change of policy which I deplore.

I also make it quite clear that, if the fire board does not like the formula that has been laid down by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities finance working group, it should submit its proposals and disagreements to COSLA. However, I understand that so far it has not done so. If it tries to close fire stations, putting people under threat and at risk, its proposals will have to have the clearance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has made it clear that he will not allow any deterioration of service. There will be no support for unacceptable proposals.

Mr. Macdonald

On that point, will the Minister assure us that he will also veto any proposed redundancies that are suggested purely on cost grounds in this financial year, in the way he has said that he will veto fire station closures in this financial year?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that a reduction in the number of firefighters, fire appliances or fire stations would definitely require my right hon. Friend's approval, and he has made it clear that he will not approve closures or reductions that would prejudice public safety. I repeat that we have increased grant-aided expenditure by 20 per cent., so there is no need whatever for such moves.