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Different views on changes to Fire Authorities from opposing MPs
It was unlikely theyd agree on everything, and they didnt.
MPs Bob Neill and Chris Williamson spoke separately at this weeks Annual Fire Exhibition and Conference 2012, and, inevitably, both focused on the ongoing changes to the sector.
Start Quote Its about putting power back to where it belongs; to communities, to locally elected councillors, to the men and women of the local fire service End Quote
Bob Neill MP
Start Quote Public services make our society a decent and safe place to live End Quote
Chris Williamson MP
Both were keen to stress the importance and value they placed on the fire service, but while Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Bob Neill talked of ‘significant, radical and important changes’, Chris Williamson, Shadow Minister, Parliamentary Labour Party, raised fears about effects of the government’s austerity programme.

Mr Neill said the changes were all about 'handing power back down,’ and resetting the agenda between the department and the FRAs, but Mr Williamson described them as amounting to ‘an ideological assault on our precious public services.’

Mr Neill insisted: “It’s about putting power back to where it belongs; to communities, to locally elected councillors, to the men and women of the local fire service.

Local fire authorities have been empowered with freedoms and flexibilities, since the Localism Act came into force last February, he said, which was an example of government giving fire authorities freedom to make their own decisions.

He pointed to a recent announcement on changes to funding of future control room services, from a top-down to a localist approach, as an example of an important change that had been made.

“I think we can get genuinely locally driven improvements in joint working and in resilience,” he said.

But Mr Williamson believed more investment was important to support such ‘resilience’.

“Public services define the kind of society that we are," he said.

"They’re what make our society a decent and safe place to live."

"But they're much more than just that. I think we have to take account of the economic impact of public services. Consider the demand in the economy that’s created by public sector workers spending salaries in their local economies.

“It has a colossal impact... particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises. There’s also public sector procurement which is exclusively spent in the real economy... creating jobs and promoting economic growth.
 
“It creates, if you like, an economic virtuous circle.” 

Delegates at the conference also heard from Cllr Sian Timoney, Member, Fire Services Management Committee and Chairman, Bedfordshire and Luton Combined Fire Authority, and Matt Wrack, General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union, among other experts.

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