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'I'm not privatising the fire service' - minister
THE region’s fire services will not be forced into private hands despite moves to allow one to be mutualised, the fire minister has insisted.
Conservative MP Brandon Lewis said Labour-controlled Cleveland Fire Authority (CFA) “wants” mutualisation and the Government was looking to facilitate the switch.
Creating a public service mutual (PSM) could allow private firms to answer emergencies and make profits.
It is thought legislation paving the way for the shake-up could be rushed through Parliament next year and the proposed Cleveland model could quickly be rolled out across the country.
But speaking before a meeting with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority on Thursday, Mr Lewis said: “We support employee ownership, as does the Labour Party.
“We’ll see what we can to facilitate that.
“But I’m not privatising the fire service. I’ve been very clear about that. It’s very different to privatisation.”
Mr Lewis confirmed legislation would “open up” mutualisation of other fire services but he added: “There is a statutory responsibility for the fire service. That public sector role is not changing.”
In response, Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said the CFA hadn’t confirmed it wanted mutualisation and was only looking at it ‘as an option’.
He said under the shake-up private firms would be able to compete to run services and questioned why the Government had pursued the policy through the regulatory reform committee, rather than in the House of Commons.
“Mr Lewis is being somewhat disingenuous,” Mr Blenkinsop continued.
“He’s trying to get Cleveland to jump ahead with this. He needs to take a breath.”
He had raised his concerns with the CFA and the authority had promised to keep local MPs in the loop, the MP added.
Earlier this month, CFA chairman Robbie Payne said he did not wish to see private firms responding to 999 calls and the authority would not be considering it if it were “properly funded”.
A Government spokesman said claims of privatisation were completely untrue, it wanted to back employee-led co-operatives and Parliament would have the opportunity to scrutinise the plans.