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?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Not a sure start

The last Labour government implemented a programme to try to ensure that every child gets the best start in life. More than 3,600 Sure Start Children’s Centres were developed offering permanent universal provision in every area in the country. Nearly 3 million young children and their families currently use these Centres, which include integrated early education and childcare, child and family health and support services, and links to employment services such as Jobcentre Plus and training providers.

Before the last general election, serious questions were raised about the political parties’ commitments to the Sure Start programme.

When challenged, David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader and now Prime Minister, said he was affronted that it was being suggested that the Conservatives didn’t support Sure Start and said “I want not just to repeat our commitment to keep Sure Start, but to set out how we will improve Sure Start.”

Liberal Democrat Leader, and now Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said: “Sure Start is a really important programme that has made a real difference to millions of parents. Difficult decisions are going to have to be made in public spending, but Sure Start is one of the best things the last government has done and I want all these centres to stay open.”

Last month, the House of Commons Library confirmed that, since 2010, the Early Intervention Grant, which supports the funding of Sure Start had been cut by more than 40%. The cuts for each council range from 33% to 48%.

Councils with the highest levels of deprivation have already suffered the biggest cuts, and will suffer even bigger cuts over the next 3 years. Locally, the Early Intervention Grant allocation cuts between 2010/11 and 2013/14 are Barnsley – 45.6%, Doncaster - 46%, Rotherham - 46.4%, Sheffield -45.6%, Nottinghamshire – 42.8%, Derbyshire – 38.3%.

As a result, more than 400 Sure Start centres have already closed. Many more face closure or being required to make significant cuts in provision over the next year. 55% of centres already report that they have stopped providing on-site daycare.

When the coalition government is cutting Sure Start – in direct contradiction to the promises made – at the same time as it is giving millionaires a £100,000 tax cut, it is difficult to believe that it has its priorities right.