Spending transparency is now required not only for local authorities but also the fire service.
Consider, for example, how the West Midlands Fire Service spends our money.
- £120,000 on hospitality and food. Figures published on its website reveal that the Service has paid well over £100,000 in the past year to catering and hospitality companies.
- West Midlands has spent nearly £100,000 on subscriptions to magazines and information centres. Figures published on their website reveal they have spent £98,935 on subscriptions over the past year. These include subscriptions to business magazines, Men’s Health-type sports magazines and industry career magazines, which promote new jobs to current members of staff. The taxpayer also fund a subscription to the Asian Fire Service Association that works ‘to enhance equality and diversity’ in the fire service.
- The West Midlands Fire Service has also spent nearly £30,000 on away days and taxpayer funded jollies. Over the past year, figures published on West Midlands’ website suggest that at least £27,000 has gone on hotels, conferences and away days. These include payments to an ‘ethically guided’ travel agent who describes itself as ‘the best in corporate event management services and travel management services."
Or the Tyne and Wyre Fire and Rescue Service where huge sums are spent on perks. In 2010/11, the Chief Fire Officer received £7,655 of remuneration in ‘benefits in kind’. This is on top of a salary of more than £136,000.
The Fire Minister Brandon Lewis has ordered an efficiencient review to be conducted by former fire-fighter and out-going Government Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, Sir Ken Knight in the New Year – for instance to introduce joint working with other emergency services liked shared senior management structures, improved procurement practices and better use of estates.
Mr Lewis said:
"We all recognise our firefighters perform an incredibly important public service. That is why spending for fire and rescue authorities, like other blue light services, has been protected. But we cannot escape the reality that every bit of the public sector has to help reduce the deficit we inherited.
"Public safety is always our first concern and this review will make sure no stone has been left unturned in the quest for the most efficient and effective front-line fire service there can be. I know Sir Ken is passionate about the quality of fire and rescue services and he will bring an enormous amount of experience and knowledge to the task."
Sir Ken said:
"With over 45 years in the fire service, I know fire-fighters care deeply about public safety and want to provide the best possible service, but we need to make sure that service is as effective and efficient as possible. Many authorities have made great strides already, but there is much more that can be done.
"This review is a real opportunity to get to grips with what is happening on the ground, to highlight best practice and make sure that every option for efficient working is being explored. I will be talking to fire-fighters, fire authorities and union reps about how we can get there."