Fears for fire service future

FEARS over the future privatisation of Cleveland Fire Brigade have been raised in the House of Commons.

Alex Cunningham, the Stockton North Labour MP, is concerned over plans by Cleveland Fire Brigade bosses to create a mutual organisation, owned by the employees.

He is worried that delivering the fire service in such a manner – in an area regarded as the highest fire risk in Europe – could lead to future competition from the private sector.

Mr Cunningham also revealed that the proposals are strongly opposed by firefighters.

But Robbie Payne, chairman of Cleveland Fire Authority, defended the service, saying the proposal was being looked at due to the “scale of funding cuts imposed by successive Governments” and that its focus would be predominantly to keep people safe.

He told the Mail: “We are looking at all our options including a social enterprise which will ensure our services are protected and communities are kept safe.

“Our intention is to bring in vital additional funding through becoming a social enterprise run by staff with the input of local people – not by the private sector.

“The fire authority will make the final decision and we are committed to obtain input from all stakeholders before this important decision about our future is made – nothing has been decided yet.”

Mr Cunningham, however, told the Commons: “The Chief Fire Officer in Cleveland is trying to force through the creation of a mutual type organisation to deliver the fire service which could in time have to compete for the contract.

“Every firefighter I have spoken to tells me they are against this move and see it as a step towards privatisation.

“Can the Minister guarantee that any such mutual would not face competition for the contract in the future and tell me if such an organisation could be created without the backing of the employees who would apparently own it?”

Mr Cunningham said he was “extremely anxious” that fire minister Brandon Lewis didn’t rule out a mutual facing competition and therefore the privatisation of the service at some time in the future.

“I am concerned that this is the first step towards a privatisation that could badly affect the running of the service.

“I hope the Government and the Chief Fire Officer will listen to the views of Cleveland firefighters, recognise the dangers of privatisation and quietly drop the whole idea.”