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By LGCnet politicial correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet politicial correspondent Robert Hedley

MPs from both sides of the commons called on government to reconsider how local authority emergency services were funded. They wanted further increases in financial support and more certainty about the sums involved.

Treasury financial secretary Paul Boateng, a former home office minister, said he would draw the MPs' concerns to the attention of ministers in the cabinet office, who were responsible for the administration of the civil defence grant. He said the total amount given to local authorities in civil defence grants increased by 36% in 2001-02, rising from£14m in 2001 to£19m.

Syd Rapson, Labour MP for Portsmouth North, said local authority representatives had told the commons defence select committee there was a 15% cut this year for English local authorities. Portsmouth had had a reduction of 5%, from£78,000 to£74,000.

He asked the minister to reconsider the funding mechanism for civil emergencies. 'Perhaps the issue could be dealt with through the standard spending assessment, to enable the public to have more confidence following 11 September', he said.

Mark Francois, Conservative MP for Rayleigh, said a recent survey of county emergency planning officers found that 93% felt that emergency planning in local government was severely under-resourced. Given the 11 September wake-up call, surely the government could do more to find resources for the people who were crucial in planning for our safety.

Mr Boateng said it was important that emergency planning had proper recognition. That was why counter-terrorism was now treated specifically as a mainstream priority and was being handled through the current spending review.

Joan Walley, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, was concerned about the size of the emergency planning budget, especially its failure to keep pace with increases in other spending. In Staffordshire, the fire service co-ordinated the emergency service for all the district councils, Staffordshire CC and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and now there were only seven full-time emergency planning officers.

She said that this year the funding available had only been decided in April, meaning that people were now employed on temporary contracts.

Ms Walley urged the minister to tell the cabinet office that certainty was needed for local authority spending during the next five years so that people could rely on the fire service and its officers to provide the emergency service that, after 11 September, everyone knew was needed.

Hansard 9 May 2002: Column 270-271

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