Fire service faces crisis

Mary Glindon MP for North Tyneside.
Mary Glindon MP for North Tyneside.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) faces a major crisis, which MPs from the north east are uniting to fight in parliament.

The fire service has been told that it must repay £10m to the government for certain top-up grants, which it received between 2006 and 2012.

Changes to these grants were made in 2006, and due to an over-claiming error, the service still received these payments.

As the payments were made by the government, the confusion over them cuts both ways.

This is just a bureaucratic tangle because the over-claimed funds would have been given out in any case.

Yet the Fire Minister refuses to meet our Chief Fire Officer and is adamant that the outstanding monies must be repaid.

The fire and rescue service says that if the minister demands full, immediate repayment it would have a catastrophic impact on the organisation’s ability to provide even an adequate response to fire and other emergencies.

This could make what is one of the most efficient and effective fire and rescue services in the UK unfit for purpose.

The Firefighters’ union tells me that there is some talk of long-term repayment.

However, past under-investment in the service means there are fears that this would amount to death by a thousand cuts.

The Treasury is the probable blockage in the bureaucracy, and I have persuaded the Northern Group of Labour MPs to raise it with the Treasury too.

Myself and other MPs are determined to seek a solution that does not damage the fire and rescue service in Tyne and Wear.

Arcane accountancy rules should not impair public safety.