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Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising these matters. There is legitimacy in some of the concerns that were expressed initially. Obviously, the world has moved on for many people.
On savings, we are putting the money up front to build the new regional control centres. If we did not, we would still have to spend a lot of money on modernising the existing centres. The additional cost is £74 million. The overall cost is £988 million. The savings will come after the end of the project. I will write to my hon. Friend to explain the detail, and put a copy in the Library for other colleagues.
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John McDonnell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would be extremely grateful if he could include the detail on whether the costs exclude depreciation, full capital costs, migration costs, the cost of buildings maintenance rehabilitation, the cost of patching up the current system until the new one comes online, and the write-off costs for the existing system. That would give us the opportunity of having an honest and clear discussion about what the overall cost burden will be.
My anxiety is this. We had a debate this week about another major projectthe third runway at Heathrow. Very sensibly, the Government have undertaken an assessment of the overall implications of the development of that project, which will be followed by the test of a peer reviewthat is, an independent assessmentof the proposals.
If the Government are convinced of their case, we need to take with us the professionals who will deliver the service. It therefore behoves the Government to have an independent review of the project very quickly and to report back to the House, or at least to have some form of peer review: an independent assessment that we can discuss and whichI agree with the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell)we can then consult upon. We must give our constituents time to have the debate. So far, many of us feel that we have been excluded from it. Certainly, the FBU does, as do many of the regional management boards who are anxious about the proposals.
It is a shame that the proposals were announced during the recess. I understood the reason for that, given such a lengthy recess, but I did not support it. It should have happened before the recess to enable us to have a proper debate. Moreover, there should have been a full ministerial statement to debate instead of a patchwork of amendments.
I appeal to the Government to take a breathing space in which we can stand back. They should establish an independent review and engage in full consultation, so that if we move forward we do so on an agreed basis. The issue is too important to allow it to become a party political dispute.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and to find myself agreeing with so much of what he said. No one would accuse me of being a fellow traveller with the Fire Brigades Union, but this is the second time on which I find myself campaigning alongside it. We recently campaigned together to prevent the much unwanted privatisation of the defence fire service, and I am glad to say that jointly we were able to persuade the Government to back off. I hope that on this occasion, too, we and the FBU will be able to persuade the Government to back off from proposals that are demonstrably unwelcome to ordinary people and throughout the fire service.
No county in England is as good an example of stealth regionalisation as our county of Wiltshire. We have heard today from many hon. Friends and Labour Members who feel that they are being regionalised unwittingly. In Wiltshire, we have an added conundrum. It is only two years since Her Majesty the
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Queen came to Devizes to open the state-of-the-art joint control service centrethe latest thing. One could phone into it for the fire service, police and ambulance and they would all turn up in good time. There are strong arguments for that. I personally was rather opposed, because it meant job losses in my constituency, in Chippenham, but I was persuaded none the less that it was the state of the art. The Government told us that the system was to be spread out across the nation. It cost £2.5 million to set up this beautiful new building, and there were significant difficulties in getting it going, but after much fighting the Government finally forced it through.
What is to happen now? All that state-of-the-art, new Labour so-called fantastic new service is to be swept away by three changes. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced the other day that it is going to do away with the fire control centre in Devizes and replace it with a remote, and, no doubt, much bigger one in Tauntonpresumably at enormous cost. The Minister might like to respond to a detailed point, namely, that the lease on the building in Devizes runs until 2014, and the first escape date in the contract is 2012. If the contract is broken through the removal of the fire service from the control centre, the Government will face a substantial penalty clause. Will the Minister confirm whether the £988 million cost that we heard about includes the gigantic cost that will be involved in breaching that contract? I imagine that the same will apply to Gloucestershire, where a similar centre is being set up.
Next, we are told that because Wiltshire ambulance service is not as good as it ought to be, although it seems pretty good to me, it is to be amalgamated with Gloucestershire, which is apparently first classthat presumably means that there is a risk that we might be averaging down rather than upand with something called the Avon ambulance service. I seem to recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) abolished Avon some 10 or 15 years ago. Why on earth we still have something called Avon ambulance service, and why it should be amalgamated with the excellent Wiltshire ambulance service, I cannot imagine.
That brings me on to a side curiosity. It seems like no time at all since I sat in the modest little health authority headquarters in Devizes, where I was told by the excellent chairman of the Wiltshire health authority that it was no longer big enough. The Wiltshire health authority was to be done away with, to be replaced with primary care groups, which became primary care trusts. Then a thing called the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority was established, although I cannot imagine what the heck it is supposed to be for. Now we hear that all the primary care trusts are to be brought together so that we end up with a body that is identical to the Wiltshire health authority. Sitting on top of that, we haveI went to visit it during the recessa huge office, with hundreds of people employed in it, called the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority. Nobody knows what on earth it does or what it is for, but I could not find a place in the car park because of all the BMWs parked there. Hundreds of civil servants were sitting in that great office doing who knows what. We now have the Wiltshire health authority just as it was when I became
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an MP eight years ago, but with a fat layer of bureaucracy on top of it. That is precisely what would happen if we allowed the so-called regionalisation to go ahead. It would save no money and mean only a gigantic increase in bureaucracy.
The fire service has been pulled outit is going to Taunton. Apparently, the ambulance service will be pulled out. It is said that we are not yet considering a regional ambulance control centre, but when I saw the chief executive during the recess, he would not give me a guarantee that it was not a logical consequence. We may well end up with something called the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire call centre.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I recently visited the Royal Berkshire ambulance trust. It has all the star ratings and is in a fabulous place. It appears that there is a plan to combine it with others in a regional centre. When something is working well and people are motivated and committed to it, what is the point of risking it, with life-threatening consequences?
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The only reason for doing such a thing is an ideological determination that big is beautiful. Labour loves reorganisation, hierarchies, structures and committees. We like good delivery of first-class services locally. My hon. Friend's point brings me to proposals about the police service.
In Wiltshire, we have the best police service in England, in the sense that our detection rate is extremely high and we have one of the lowest crime rates. Our proudest boast is that no murder has gone undetected in the county since the police service was set up in 1834. I believe that it was the first county police service to be established by my predecessor, Mr. Peel.
What do we have now? We are talking about doing away with the excellent Wiltshire police service because the service is apparently not big enough to cover anti-terrorism and all the other matters that the Minister mentioned. Surely we can get around that problem. Four officers in the Wiltshire police service deal with anti-terrorism. Surely they could happily co-operate with the four in Gloucestershire, the four in Dorset and the four in Somerset, without the proposed gigantic structural reorganisation. We could find ways of co-operating across borders.
I want the Minister to deal with a specific point about cross-border co-operation. If there is to be useful cross-border co-operation between services, whether fire, police or ambulance, why does it have be based on the Government's pre-set regional structure? For example, in Dorset, surely it would be reasonable for the police services of Bournemouth and Poole, which effectively constitute one built-up area, to co-operate. The one thing that the Government have laid out plainly is that the borders of the pre-set regions must be adhered to. There must be no cross-border co-operation. If the police in Bournemouth are caught co-operating with the police in Poole, my goodness, there would be all sorts of trouble. The Home Secretary would be down on them like a ton of bricks. However, if the police in Bournemouth co-operate with the police in the Scilly Isles, that counts as a good scheme according to the new Labour notion.
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If we are considering the convenience of delivering emergency services, surely we should examine the geographical areas in which it is convenient to deliver them. If the south-west of England exists, it is Devon, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. The notion that one can go from Tewkesbury to the Scilly Isles and from Cricklade to Poole and call all that the south-westif one stuck a drawing pin in Tewkesbury and turned the map around, the Scilly Isles would land in the city of Glasgowis ridiculous. We in north Wiltshire ain't in the south-west of England. We may be in Wessex and the west country but we do not want to be in the south-west. We do not want our police service to be done away with in favour of some generalised south-west police force.
If we add to the regionalisation of the fire service that of the ambulance service, the police service, an astonishing series of changes in the health service, which constitute a form of regionalisation, and the nationalisation of some other county services, it amounts to the abolition of county government in England. It is no less than stealth abolition of our counties.
If one is interested in accountability, localism and allowing local people to determine the sort of services that they want, the best possible structure in which to do that is the county. The Labour party may not like it but I love the county of Wiltshire and I pledge to do what I can to fight to prevent its abolition by the mob opposite.
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