Fire services at risk from funding cuts, PAC warns

Fire and rescue services could be at risk due to further cuts to funding, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned.

A new report from the PAC reviewing the impact of spending reductions on services commended fire and rescue services for absorbing average funding reductions of 28 per cent over the past five years across England’s 46 fire and rescue authorities.

However, the report warns that central government does not have a ‘strong understanding of the potential impacts of future funding reductions’ expected over the next year, as outlined in November’s Spending Review.

The PAC highlights that there is a weakness in the local scrutiny of fire and rescue authorities, which is a serious issue due to a lack of an external inspectorate as found in emergency services. The report argues that this lack of oversight means that fire authorities could miss opportunities to improve value for money, for instance through greater collaboration or mergers.

The PAC recommends that the Home Office, which took responsibility for fire and rescue in January 2016, should work more closely with fire and rescue authorities to assess options and support them in a planned way, rather than forcing mergers through that may not be the best option.

It also calls on the Home Office to strengthen local governance and accountability, and publish a delivery plan by summer 2016 that ensures there is a coherent approach to external scrutiny across the sector, capable of providing independent assurance to the government.

The report also suggests that the Home Office should write to the PAC by summer 2016 setting out how it is improving central government’s understanding of the impacts of ongoing funding reductions on prevention and protection activities.