A Tory MP has fanned the flames of an already red-hot political wrangle by suggesting Staffordshire’s Fire Authority is “selfish” to resist merging back-office functions with the police.
Michael Fabricant’s latest comments follow on from last week’s Lichfield Mercury story about how it took firefighters over 20 minutes to respond to an emergency call at a block of flats in the cathedral city because a crew had to travel from Rugeley.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has acknowledged its arrival to the alert at David Garrick Gardens - which provides accommodation for elderly and vulnerable people - was “outside of our intended response time” and attributed the delay to the “very rare occasion of retained appliance unavailability”.
The service also said the incident “will be thoroughly investigated so that any factors that caused the delay can be properly addressed”.
Mr Fabricant has now questioned Home Secretary Amber Rudd in Parliament about the city’s fire cover.
He said: “In Lichfield, we have a brand new fire station but one fewer fire appliance, which seems an odd sense of priorities in the way that the fire service is run in Staffordshire.
“There would be a £10 million saving if only the police and the fire service were to merge their back-office functions.
“What can the Home Secretary do to encourage them to do just that?”
Ms Rudd responded: “That is an excellent point from my honourable friend, and it reinforces the point... that the best way to achieve such efficiencies is through closer working between police and fire services.
“I urge him to encourage his authority – if it has not done so already – to put in the business case review for us to look at.”
Following the exchange, Mr Fabricant told the Lichfield Mercury: “I remain disappointed that the Fire Authority prefer their cushy benefits through membership of their board and going for glitzy projects such as new fire stations and the now abandoned fire prevention ‘theme park’ in Stafford rather than seeking better provision of firefighting equipment.
“I condemn the halving in major firefighting appliances in Lichfield; the Land Rover is no replacement for a full sized fire engine.
“Merger with Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner will result in savings of £10 million per annum which could be used to replace the firefighting capability cut by the authority.
“They are selfish to resist it.”
Chairman of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Fire Authority, Councillor Stephen Sweeney, responded: “We note the comments made by Mr Fabricant and are disappointed that he holds this particular view.
“The fire and rescue authority together with the fire and rescue service have entered into collaborations with Staffordshire Police which are already providing savings to the public purse.
“As to the matter regarding the Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis taking over role of the Fire Authority, he has already submitted a business case to central government.
“Although we have assisted in supplying information for this document the ability to support or oppose this rests with the local authorities for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent and we are aware that they both oppose the proposal.
“We understand that the business case is presently being scrutinised by an independent person appointed by the Home Secretary and we are presently awaiting the outcome of this process.”