HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc170-1
10. Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)

What representations he has received regarding reform of the fire call element of the standard spending assessment for fire and civil defence authorities; and if he will make a statement. [13561]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Dr. Alan Whitehead)

A number of representations have been received from hon. Members and fire service interests supporting removal of the calls indicator from the fire SSA funding distribution formula. We recognise those concerns and are committed to removing the calls indicator. As part of the overall review of local government finance, we are working up proposals, in partnership with local government, on a way of funding the fire service from 2003–04 by a means of distribution that is fair and free from perverse incentives.

Mr. Truswell

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he accept that, until the formula is revised, West Yorkshire fire authority will continue to be heavily penalised for its success in reducing the number of fire calls? Does he acknowledge that that authority is one of the most efficient in the country? Will he take steps, as in the past, to mitigate the effects on its income so that it is not forced either to make unacceptable cuts in services or to introduce a huge hike in the council tax precept?

Dr. Whitehead

I accept that overall the fire service is succeeding and is efficient; generally, it gives excellent value for the money paid by local council tax payers. We are engaged with local authority representatives in considering changes to the SSA formula. I accept that an indicator that appears to penalise local fire authorities if they are successful in ensuring that fires are prevented, in addition to putting out fires, is not the best way of ensuring that they carry out their duties as efficiently and effectively as possible.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in this year's settlement floors and ceilings will be applied to the grants settlement for fire and police authorities. I hope that that will provide comfort by ensuring that settlements are appropriate to the costs incurred by fire authorities.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

The Minister will be aware that if the Hereford and Worcester combined fire authority were to operate at the level funded by the Government, it would be operating an illegal service. In his forthcoming review, will he promise the people of Hereford and Worcestershire that they will not have to top up that service from a central Government grant that could be used for other services? Will his review ensure that he funds the service at a level at which it will be legally viable?

Dr. Whitehead

The hon. Lady will be aware that reviews are based on attempting to ensure that funding for fire authorities and local authorities in general is fair and properly distributed. On the suggestion that I should promise today particular funding for one authority, which would be unique as far as the review is concerned, I do not think that she seriously expects me to come out with such a statement. However, the review that is currently being undertaken of fire call indicators, and especially the proposals that are being put in place to replace them, will ensure that fire service funding is more fair and transparent, and that fire services overall can do for the future the job that they are succeeding in doing at the moment.