Is this the next public service in line for Tory privatisation?

March 25, 2013 11:39 am

Having made it possible to privatise 49% of the NHS, this Tory/LibDem Government has now got another precious public service in its sights. This time it is the Fire and Rescue Service in England that is being lined up to be sold off to the highest bidder.

It’s softening it up with unprecedented cuts. Of course we all knew the Government would not exempt our emergency services from its austerity programme, but the unparalleled cuts are reckless and downright dangerous. They have already axed more than 4,000 firefighters, closed scores of fire stations and decommissioned dozens of fire and rescue appliances.

The Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, set out his privatisation plans in a letter to the House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee in January this year. He was proposing legislation to enable Fire and Rescue Authorities “to contract out their full range of services”. But the cross-party committee sensibly dismissed his scheme, not least because the letter attempted to circumvent proper parliamentary scrutiny of this fundamental policy shift. But there can be no question that the proposal remains on the table.

Mr Lewis has tried to put a different spin on it, claiming it is only about enabling Fire and Rescue Services to be run as public sector cooperatives. But this is just a charade. The fact is there are no protections in place to shield public sector cooperatives from being replaced by a future private sector operator. Furthermore, the change that Mr Lewis is proposing would allow Fire and Rescue Services to be privatised immediately without even bothering to establish a cooperative first.

In some countries around the world, people have to pay a premium to obtain protection from the Fire and Rescue Service. I discovered one such example in Tennessee USA, where a couple lost everything after their home burned to the ground – even though they had called 911 to ask for help. Firefighters responded, but didn’t put out the blaze because the couple had not paid the $75 subscription to the local fire service.

This is where privatisation of our Fire and Rescue Services could ultimately lead. In the meantime, if the private sector were to run this vital emergency service we would see a massive reduction in the contribution it makes to our community. Much of what the Fire and Rescue Service does is outside its statutory responsibilities. This includes responding to flooding incidents and working with young people. Our brave firefighters deserve better and the British public have a right to expect the fire and rescue service will always be free at the point of need.

That is why I have launched a national campaign to highlight and oppose the government’s reckless plan. We cannot allow the high priests of neoliberalism to sacrifice the fire and rescue service on the altar of austerity.

Saving lives, not making private profit must remain the priority of our Fire and Rescue Service.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    The Tennessee example is really interesting but the issue at stake was not privatisation as suggested in this article (the local fire service was not private), it is the choice between a system of compulsory universal insurance or voluntary insurance.

    The fire service is paid for by the residents of a small town through their property taxes and provides them with fire services free at the point of use, compulsory insurance like we have in the UK through the fire service element of the council tax. The residents outside the town limits don’t pay taxes to the town, they make no contribution to the fire service and so are not covered but the town offers the fire service as an option to those who chose to subscribe.

    It seems awful to have fire-fighters standing-by while a fire burns down someones house but under a voluntary system, if fire fighters put out every fire regardless of subscription, why would anyone pay their subscriptions? To translate it to the UK, if council tax were optional and yet all of the services they provided were still available for free at the point of use, what proportion would voluntarily pay their council tax?

    Pretty soon you’d have no services because there would be no money to pay for them or as in this case, the residents of a small town would be paying for the fire service for the many more residents living outside the town, the system would break-down.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    The Tennessee example is really interesting but the issue at stake was not privatisation as suggested in this article (the local fire service was not private), it is the choice between a system of compulsory universal insurance or voluntary insurance.

    The fire service is paid for by the residents of a small town through their property taxes and provides them with fire services free at the point of use, compulsory insurance like we have in the UK through the fire service element of the council tax. The residents outside the town limits don’t pay taxes to the town, they make no contribution to the fire service and so are not covered but the town offers the fire service as an option to those who chose to subscribe.

    It seems awful to have fire-fighters standing-by while a fire burns down someones house but under a voluntary system, if fire fighters put out every fire regardless of subscription, why would anyone pay their subscriptions? To translate it to the UK, if council tax were optional and yet all of the services they provided were still available for free at the point of use, what proportion would voluntarily pay their council tax?

    Pretty soon you’d have no services because there would be no money to pay for them or as in this case, the residents of a small town would be paying for the fire service for the many more residents living outside the town, the system would break-down.

Latest

  • News Damian McBride says Labour’s policies are a “great, steaming pile of fudge”

    Damian McBride says Labour’s policies are a “great, steaming pile of fudge”

    Just when you thought he’d mostly disappeared from the political scene, Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former special advisor who was forced to resign in disgrace over emails he’d sent smearing senior Conservatives, has piped up again. This time, he’s hit out against the Labour leaderships’ current strategy, calling their policies a “great, steaming pile of fudge”. McBride’s latest intervention comes from the new epilogue to his memoirs Power Trip, originally released during the Labour Party Conference last year, extracts of which […]

    Read more →
  • Featured The law alone won’t stop domestic violence – we need a culture change

    The law alone won’t stop domestic violence – we need a culture change

    There’s been little, if any, criticism following Yvette Cooper’s announcement yesterday that if elected next May Labour will properly address domestic violence. In many ways, there’s good reason for this. As it stands, the system doesn’t do enough to enable women who experience domestic violence to bring their attackers to justice. As Cooper explained, in the UK 2 women a week will die at the hands of their current or former male and 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Why we can’t do without All-Women Shortlists

    Why we can’t do without All-Women Shortlists

    The perennial issue of All Women Shortlists (AWS) has raised its head again, with Cynon Valley CLP extremely disgruntled about having an AWS imposed for its parliamentary selection after having already had a woman MP, Ann Clwyd, for well over two decades. Things seem to be escalating, with rumours of Ms Clwyd withdrawing her retirement and fighting the selection if it is an AWS, and CLP officers saying they will “go on strike” and not help administer the selection process.How […]

    Read more →
  • News Burnham: Stop the “forced privatisation” of the NHS and give the public a say

    Burnham: Stop the “forced privatisation” of the NHS and give the public a say

    Andy Burnham will make a speech in Manchester today, demanding that the agenda of privatisation within the NHS is stopped until the public are consulted. The latest in Labour’s summer series of speeches under the title The Choice, Burnham will spell out the difference between Labour’s approach to the health service and the Government’s current handling. He will say that NHS England should delay the signing of all contracts for clinical services with private contractors over the coming months, which would […]

    Read more →
  • News More evidence that the Tories are running the NHS into the ground

    More evidence that the Tories are running the NHS into the ground

    The Sun’s front page story this morning should come as no surprise to those who have been following the Government’s approach to the NHS. But the fact that the paper that has been one of the Conservative’s biggest cheerleaders over the past four years is running a three-day investigation into how badly the NHS is being managed should put all of us in no doubt: the National Health Service is in big trouble. With the headline “CRITICAL”, an inside two-page […]

    Read more →