Floods highlight need for new approach to funding, says CFO

Mon 10 Feb, 2014


Fire Minister Brandon Lewis is pictured talking to a firefighter in St Peter Street.


Fire Minister Brandon Lewis was shown some of the work Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is doing to protect flood-threatened homes in Marlow this afternoon. Crews are currently using pumps to prevent water from entering homes in Garnet Court and St Peter Street.

The visit was arranged by Councillor Adrian Busby, Chairman of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority, and Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones. Mr Jones spoke afterwards about the financial challenges facing fire and rescue services when dealing with flooding incidents, and the need for a new approach to funding.

He said: “Fire and rescue services are not funded for flooding and have been given no statutory role by the Government. In a spirit of wishing to help people in distress and using the leeway granted to us to do what seems appropriate, we still respond as best we can.

“Despite running on very tight budgets, this fire authority has chosen to continue to self-fund two water response units in recognition of the flooding challenges the area has traditionally faced.”

The units are based at Beaconsfield Fire Station and Newport Pagnell Fire Station.

Mr Jones, with Councillor Busby’s support, is seeking support for a funding system such as the one used in Australia by which homes, businesses and insurance companies directly fund emergency services at the point of taxation.

He said: “We feel that insurance companies - who always adjust premiums after events such as those of recent weeks - should be the main contributor to emergency agencies who deal with flooding.

“This would have the advantage of ensuring that all areas could be prepared for such events, while lowering the political risks for the Government and the Environment Agency.”

Speaking of the spat between Local Government Minister Eric Pickles and the Environment Agency, he added: “We note the media coverage of the Environment Agency and the Government’s differing views, but feel that Government departments and agencies blaming each other while citizens struggle is unseemly, untimely and not in any way helpful to their plight.

“These matters should be dealt with through the debriefing and review process which follows the floods rather than while people's homes and businesses are suffering.

“We respond to calls for help from them because, often, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who can or will help people in distress.

"What has been disappointing in some of the thanks we have received is that local authorities, some of whom are provided with funds to help prepare for flooding, have not reportedly been able to help people who called them.

“This problem will need to feature in any aftermath discussions. One legacy after these events is that members of the public, who have seen firefighters helping in media coverage, tend to rely upon fire and rescue services as a first port of call in future.

“As our budgets continue to diminish, our ability to continue to respond to their calls for help seems certain to be tested.”

Councillor Busby said: “This fire authority has a good relationship with the Government and I am delighted that the Fire Minister could take time from his busy schedule to come and see the great work being done by our crews.

“I echo the Chief Fire Officer’s views about future funding because we recognise that our communities will always expect the brigade to be able to respond to calls for help at times such as these.

"At times of crisis, we shouldn’t care about ‘who is funded to do what’ or ‘who should have dredged the rivers’ – those are debates to be had when people’s homes are not underwater.

“I am glad that we were prepared to help and that our highly professional crews are doing such great work to try and keep people safe from harm.

“We are delighted to have been able to service the needs of our own people in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, and to send crews and vehicles to assist the people of Somerset over the last few weeks. We remain committed to that response in Somerset for another week.

"Our commitment to national resilience is clear, and I am pleased that crews from this service are helping in other areas.”