Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Time to get all fired up

Whilst the recent media attention has been about which animal should be listed on the contents of beef-burgers and lasagne, the government has quietly taken the first steps in its proposals to privatise the fire services.

A letter from fire minister Brandon Lewis to the chair of the House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee has revealed that the government is set to put forward proposals “that would enable fire and rescue authorities in England to contract out their full range of services to a suitable provider.”

This would mean that fire stations in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire and their control staff and firefighters could be employed and run by a private company. All services, including special rescue work, could be outsourced or privatized.

The minister is seeking to push the changes through the little-known Regulatory Reform Committee, which means that the proposals would avoid full Parliamentary scrutiny.

I have to say that I firmly oppose these proposals and the way in which the government is trying to slip them through without having to answer some difficult questions. Fire and rescue is an essential service which we all depend on for our safety and, sometimes, our lives. Private sector obligations to deliver profits for shareholders are completely incompatible with the ethos of the Fire and Rescue Service, which puts public safety first.

Local people need to have confidence that fire-fighting in our area is being run for public protection, not company profit. The Olympics provided a forceful lesson that private firms often cost more and deliver less than promised when they bid to take over public services.

How happy would you be to learn that your fire service had been outsourced to G4S, which had then sub-contracted the supplies of ladders to Bob’s Window Cleaners, fire engines to Kerbside Motors, and fire-fighters to ATOS?