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.
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.