§ Mr. Ian Stewart
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received the report of the Fire Service College Prior Options Review; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Straw
Against the background of the continuing shortfall of the Fire Service College in meeting its financial targets, I commissioned a prior options review in March 1999. I asked the review team to evaluate the performance of the College; and taking account of developments since it was established, reappraise the options for achieving best value for money in the provision of central training for the United Kingdom fire service.
I have now received the Report of the review and arranged for its publication. Copies of the Report have been placed in the Library.
The review considered various organisational options for providing central training for the United Kingdom fire service. They took account of the College's track record as an Agency; its shortage of key skills and experience; and the need for decisive action to tackle the problems identified, including the requirement for significant capital investment if we are to keep the College viable. The review was conscious of the need to increase training throughput at the College and suggested that there would be additional significant benefits from joining up the activities of the Home Office and Ministry of Defence (MOD) Fire Services Central Training Establishment, at Manston.
The review concluded that the option most likely to restore the College to viability would be to end the College's Agency status and replace it with a partnership with the private sector. The Report therefore, recommends that a three way partnership should be established between the Home Office, the MOD and the private sector for the delivery of fire service training and to exploit fully the College site and facilities.
The public sector would continue to have a close involvement by having in the College officers seconded from the United Kingdom Fire Service and from the MOD. The Report also recommends that the College should be reviewed regularly by Her Majesty's Fire Services' Inspectorate. This would parallel the arrangements that exist in Scotland for inspecting the Scottish Fire Service Training School at Gullane. It would also provide the Home Office with a source of expertise to assist with the monitoring and management of a future partnership agreement.
I am grateful to the review team for the work they have undertaken. I welcome their findings, their thorough and careful analysis of the College's problems and their recommendations. I am accepting immediately their recommendation that in future the College should be 371W reviewed by Her Majesty's Fire Services' Inspectorate and I have asked the Chief Inspector to inspect and report on the College regularly.
After this thorough review, and years of difficulties, it is very important that the College's problems are now gripped firmly and tackled expeditiously. I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that joining up the activities of the College with those of the Ministry of Defence Fire Services Central Training Establishment, in partnership with the private sector, holds the potential to bring benefit to all parties concerned and should be urgently explored. I am also commencing consultations today with the College, the Fire Service and other stakeholders on this and other recommendations in the report. I will also be seeking advice from the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council.
I am inviting views by the 18 February 2000.