Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop this evening (13th May 2013) used an Adjournment Debate to highlight his concerns that proposals to turn Cleveland Fire Brigade into a ‘public service’ mutual were a “mutilation of mutualisation” that could lead to privatisation, whilst also attacking the lack of transparency over the handling of the proposals.
The Tory-led Government has spent over £100,000 funding proposals that would see Cleveland Fire Brigade ‘spun out’ from Cleveland Fire Authority, with Tory Ministers trying to push through legislative changes “that would enable fire and rescue authorities in England to contract out their full range of services to a suitable provider”.
Under European law, if the Fire Brigade were to be ‘spun out’, after the initial contract expires, it is very likely the Fire Authority would have to put fire services out to potential competitive tender. This would allow private companies to bid to replace the Fire Brigade as the provider of frontline, emergency fire services.
These proposals are being opposed by the Labour Party’s Shadow Fire Minister (Chris Williamson MP), Cleveland’s Labour MPs (Alex Cunningham, Andy McDonald and Iain Wright), Redcar’s Labour and Co-operative Parliamentary candidate (Anna Turley), the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, the Fire Officers’ Association, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Co-operative Party.
“I was pleased that I was able to secure this debate, as I am deeply concerned about these proposals.
“There is a certain stealth about how the Government are handling these proposals. Not only are they refusing to disclose information requested through Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary questions, but Fire Minister Brandon Lewis attempted to sneak legislative changes that would permit privatisation under the radar, through the House of Commons’ Regulatory Reform Committee.
“If the Government and Chief Fire Officer continue to push these proposals, there is a real risk that our Fire Brigade could be privatised, due to European law. Yet, despite the significance of this, there is a total lack of transparency, ensuring that Cleveland’s residents and media are kept in the dark about this threat.
“Whilst I appreciate that the Government is squeezing the Brigade’s finances, these proposals will not mitigate the cuts the Brigade faces, and, ultimately, we should not even consider exposing the fire brigade to the risk of privatisation. In addition to this, the Minister failed to outline any route that would permit competitive tendering to be avoided.
“Fire and rescue services are a life-and-death service; public safety must always come first, not private profit. It is time for Cleveland Fire Authority to let the public know what’s going on.”
Anna Turley, Labour and Co-operative candidate for Redcar, said:
“I do not believe this is the right model for our fire service. A mutual requires the support of its employees, yet fire-fighters do not want these changes. The language of mutuality and co-operation is simply being used as political cover by the Coalition Government to open up public services to potential competitive tender. I believe this poses a major risk to the service delivery of one of our most vital emergency services, particularly in our area of high industrial risk.
“Residents, fire-fighters, their elected representatives and the media have a right to know what is going on. Such important decisions that affect us all should not be discussed behind closed doors.”