HC Deb 09 May 2002 vol 385 cc270-1
9. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

How the Budget will affect the funds available to local authorities for emergency planning. [53551]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng)

The Budget has had no effect on the amount specifically made available for emergency planning.

Syd Rapson

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and welcome the previous increases on the low base that we inherited from the last Government. However, in evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, local authority representatives claimed that there was a 15 per cent. cut this year for English local authorities, and Portsmouth is receiving a reduction of 5 per cent., from £78,000 to £74,000. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the means of funding for dealing with civil emergencies—perhaps the issue could be dealt with through the standard spending assessment—to enable the public to have more confidence following 11 September?

Mr. Boateng

I know from my time as a Minister of State, Home Office that my hon. Friend takes a great and proper interest in civil defence and emergency planning in his constituency. That is very much to be welcomed. He will be glad to know that the total amount given to local authorities in civil defence grants increased by 36 per cent. in 2001–02, rising from £14 million in 2001 to £19 million in 2001–02. That is a substantial increase. Where there are specific issues in relation to the administration of the civil defence grant, that is a matter for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Cabinet Office, but I shall certainly draw to their attention the concerns that my hon. Friend expressed.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

A recent survey of county emergency planning officers found that 93 per cent. of the 30 officers questioned felt that emergency planning in local government was severely underresourced. Given the wake-up call that we received on 11 September, surely the Government can do more to find resources for the people who are so crucial in planning for our safety.

Mr. Boateng

I share the hon. Gentleman's belief that we need to ensure that those who plan for our safety and who play such an important role in securing the welfare and safety of us all have proper recognition. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Cabinet Office and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary have given the matter the attention that it deserves, and why counter-terrorism is now specifically treated as a mainstream priority and is being handled through the spending review 2002. The points that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Syd Rapson) have properly made will no doubt be taken into account in that review.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

May I also express my concern about the size of the emergency planning budget, especially in view of its failure to keep pace with increases in other spending? In Staffordshire, the fire service co-ordinates the emergency service for all the district councils, Staffordshire county council and Stoke-on-Trent city council, and we now have only seven full-time emergency planning officers. This year, the amount available was settled only in April, meaning that people are now employed on temporary contracts. May I urge my right hon. Friend to tell the Cabinet Office that we need certainty for local authority spending during the next five years so that we can rely on our fire service and its officers to provide the emergency service that we all know is needed after 11 September?

Mr. Boateng

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for the interest that she takes in this subject. She will know that no decisions on the other elements of local government funding have yet been made. They will be announced in the spending review in the summer. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the


£43 million that has been found for 2002–03 from the capital modernisation fund for the fire service, part of which will meet the very concerns that she has expressed.