The Labour Party claims to support public service mutuals. Yet in the case of the fire service they attack such proposals as "privatisation." The Fire Minister Brandon Lewis says their campaign is "misleading and false."
In a letter to Labour MP Chris Williamson he adds:
We are working with those fire and rescue authorities that wish to explore locally-led mutuals as a
way of delivering services. Any move towards mutualisation will only be for those fire and rescue
authorities, such as Cleveland, who wish to explore this route. Cleveland Fire Authority’s chairman,
who is a Labour Party councillor, has described the claims of privatisation as “scaremongering”.
I am surprised that Her Majesty’s Opposition is trying to oppose mutuals in local government, given
the Labour Party is in formal coalition with the Co-operative Party. As the latter’s website states:
“From foundation trust hospitals to co-operative trust schools, we are already seeing the benefits
that new mutual organisations are bringing to public services. These can provide the efficiency gains
of the private sector whilst providing real democratic accountability, giving users, employees and
other stakeholders a real say in how their organisations are run. If we are serious about creating a
new politics, then giving ordinary people real power over the services that they rely on is the best way to do it.”
The Leader of the Opposition has also endorsed mutuals and co-operatives in local government in
a pamphlet on the very topic. And your Party’s own local elections launch document has praised councils for “pursuing new co-operative models of service delivery”.
A party that was true to its word would be seeking to support Cleveland in its mutual bid: the fact
that you are actively opposing a Labour-led local authority speaks volumes on the Labour Party’s bandwagon opportunism and cynicism.
In a disgraceful article Mr Williamson, who is a Shadow DCLG Minister, said:
What price knowing that if something unthinkable happens to your nearest and dearest then there are professionals on hand to help?
What price a human life?
Let's look at it another way. Why, exactly, do the government think that a private sector company would be prepared to take on a business such as the fire and rescue service?
There can only be one answer: to make money.
And if the prime motivation is to make profits for shareholders, service delivery is likely to be impaired. Surely even this government can see that our emergency services need to be protected, rather than being fed to the wolves.
In 2009-10, the last year of the Labour Government there were 416 deaths from fire in Great Britain. By 2011-12 that figure had fallen to 380. For April-September 2012 there is a further 19% fall on the same period the previous year. These are figures that Bob Neill MP can be proud of – especially as they were achieved on a reduced budget. His successor Brandon Lewis is determined to save more lives through greater efficiency and innovation. As Conservatives we should also be proud – I should have included this on my list of 100 Government achievements.
Of course more could be done. Why have some areas – Liverpool and Greater Manchester for example – done better than others? Could more lives be saved through collaboration between the fire brigade and the ambulance service? Why is there still a right to strike in essential services?
There can be honest argument about how to save lives. What is offensive about Mr Williamson is his suggestion that the Government doesn't care about saving lives. It would not occur to me for a moment to suggest that the various Fire Ministers during the Labour Government – Nick Raynsford, Jim Fitzpatrick, Angela Smith, Parmjit Dhanda and Sadiq Khan – didn't care how many people burned to death.
Mr Williamson should apologise.