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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): As secretary of the FBU parliamentary group, I refer hon. Members to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests. I do not object to hon. Members on both sides of the House relating views that they may have heard from FBU members.
I thank the Government for the way in which they have drafted the amendment, because I have spent this week looking for something that I can supportI can support the amendment, provided that the ministerial winding-up speech does not contradict it.
All hon. Members agree with the outline business case statement that the existing arrangements for delivering core services, including call handling and dispatch functions, within the fire service are perceived to be excellent, and almost every hon. Member who has spoken has congratulated the staff and the service on how they currently operate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) has related the strength of feeling after 7 July about the excellent performance of our emergency services in London.
The reform is among the most novel ever seen in this country, and it is important that we get the history right. It is true that the Bain report did not recommend regionalisation, and it is also true that Mott Macdonald made two recommendationsits first recommendation included 27 centres; its second recommendation included nine centres. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich can correct me, if I am wrong, but I thought that Mott Macdonald's first recommendation was for 27 centres.
Mr. Raynsford: I cannot recall the precise number. My hon. Friend has implied that the recommendation is not supported by experience. Will he acceptI am sure that he willthat London already has a regional control centre? It provides an extremely good service compared with some of the smaller services outside London, which would offer an improved service if they were to achieve London's cost-effectiveness.
John McDonnell: Of course I accept that point, and in my experience the service in London is very good. However, the business case points out the lack of co-ordination across all services at the regional structural level. The proposals are novel because they will bring together all services within the regional structure.
Over time, successive Governments have received different advice on the matter, and we must address the basic questions. Will the proposal work? Does it have the confidence of the people whom we will require to deliver the service? Will the reform be cost-effective? If it is not cost-effective, what is the fall-back position?
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The business case addresses the point that the scheme's high IT content may bring it close to failure. Scepticism at such an early stage is constructive, because it means that we must address the issues.
Does the project command the confidence of the professionals themselves? The FBU's view does not require reiteration, because we have heard it from both sides of the House. Front-line firefighters are deeply sceptical about whether the scheme will work, about the cost savings and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has said, about whether it will lead to privatisation. No matter what assurances the Government make, we must accept the firefighters' concerns.
What about the organisations on the ground which were consulted about the business case? I have a copy of the report on the views of the regional management boards that was sent to Ministers. I am not sure whether I should have this report, because I am not sure whether the business case has been produced. I do not know whether I might be arrested under the new terrorism legislation, but let us hope that whatever the Home Secretary is drafting today, it does not concern the leakage of documents.
The business case makes it clear that neither the front-line firefighters nor the regional management boards, who must deliver the project, were convinced by the argument. I worry that if they were not convinced, then the proposals will not be successful, and that the lack of confidence in the deliverability of the project will undermine our assurance to our constituents that the Government are providing the necessary services to protect their safety and the lives of their families.
There are genuine concerns about costs. Some of the figures about savings that the Government have quoted over time have also come into dispute. My understanding is that in June the estimated cost of the project stood at £988 million.
The Minister has said that the savings will be £20 million a year. In that case, how many years of savings will be required on the basis of the total project cost? My understanding is that the savings that the Government have identified do not take into account the initial investment made up front by the Government. A whole range of other financial details have been questioned by the regional management boards. At the moment, the £20 million-a-year savings look fragile against the initial investment.
That leads on to another concern. If these savings are achieved, where will the money be found if there is a lack of confidence and therefore cost overruns? There are two optionsincreases in the council tax or cuts in the fire service. I cannot see the Treasury acceding to any additional Government subsidy on such a Government project, given that it has been fairly brutal to other departmental projects that have not delivered the goods.
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