Cambridgeshire’s MPs stand up for fire service

AS part of The Hunts Post’s ongoing SOS campaign to protect frontline fire services, CATHERINE BELL contacted seven Members of Parliament, who represent constituencies across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, to ask how they were supporting the fire service. Here are the results…

Jonathan Djanogly, Conservative MP for Huntingdon said he has met with Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg and other senior officials on two occasions in the last 12 months to discuss the cuts. He has also met with a representative from the Fire Brigades Union to get an understanding of their view on the management’s approach and he was represented at a meeting in London with other MP’s recently.

He wrote to the fire minister Bob Neill in June 2011, stating the case for a fair deal for Cambridgeshire and particularly in relation to the fact that Cambridgeshire has already made significant cuts.

A spokesman said: “Jonathan fully recognises the breadth and depth of the work undertaken by our fire and rescue service and the bravery, dedication and professionalism of the men and women who work within it. Those people that work within the service provide a trusted local service to their communities, whilst also responding to national emergencies when required.”

The spokesman explained that the budget deficit inherited from the last government has meant “all layers of government have had difficult decisions to make” and they expected every line of every public service to be cutting costs.

She added: “This does not necessarily mean that either the service or productivity needs to decline as a result - often the opposite will be the case. Specifically, as regards the fire service, Jonathan has made representations to central government on the settlement and not least to say how unfair it would be if Cambridgeshire as a relatively efficient and lean fire authority were not given their fair share. However, as Jonathan has discussed directly with the fire authority, particularly as a small organisation, in the future it will be vital for them to continue to arrange further joint working with other fire authorities to maximise, revenue, efficiencies and savings.”

She said Mr Djanogly does not believe it is a good idea for the government to interfere in how savings are made, because individual authorities are best placed to assess the needs and priorities in their local area.

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She concluded: “Having spent time with various members of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service over the last 11 years, Jonathan is aware of the fantastic and difficult job firefighters do in their communities. He appreciates that this is a difficult time for them and he congratulates them on their willingness to work with management to try and secure the best possible outcome.

“He congratulates The Hunts Post on encouraging support and debate on this important issue.”

Shailesh Vara, Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire, said: “Fire and rescue services play a vital role in the community and it is important that they continue to do so.

“Firefighters are some of the bravest people in our country and they deserve all the support that we can possibly give them.

“I have met with various senior management members and union representatives concerning the services, as well as a personal meeting with Bob Neill MP, the responsible minister.

“The way ahead is not easy but it is important to remember that no frontline cuts have so far been made and everyone is working to ensure that remains the case.

“Few doubt that amongst the proposals, cuts to the back office can and should be made. This includes seriously considering working closely with other fire services and I know that talks are currently taking place to that end.

“I welcome The Hunts Post’s effort to raise the profile of this important issue and will continue to work with all concerned to ensure we maintain a first rate fire and rescue service.”

Stephen Barclay, Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire, said: “Over the last 12 months we have held two meetings at Parliament and a third meeting at the Fire HQ in Huntingdon, all attended by the chief fire officer.”

He explained that he has regularly posted blog updates on his campaign to support fire stations in Manea and Sutton.

He said that savings would first be made by implementing a new staffing rota, cutting press officers (Cambridgeshire had six last year), and other back office savings and front line cuts would only be necessary if further savings were needed.

He added: “The reason Cambridgeshire fire service faces a financial challenge is because of the terrible funding formula inherited from the last government, which means we receive less for our fire service than other parts of the country (as is the case also for our schools), not to mention the massive national debt.”

At the time of going to press, we were yet to receive responses from: Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, Andrew Lansley, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, James Paice, Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, and Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough.