asked the Minister for Local Government whether he will recognise the advantages of establishing a National Fire Board representative of firemen and fire officers, insurance companies, manufacturing and commercial concerns which could implement policy in collaboration with the Department and effectively promote fire protection and prevention.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers (Resumed). - National Fire Board.
With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 247, 248 and 249 together.
In view of criticisms that have been expressed of the fire service, I think it right first to indicate what has been done in the development of the service. Annual expenditure on the service has increased over the last ten years from £428,000 per annum to £1,780,296 in 1970-71. The strength of the service on 31st March, 1971, comprised 546 full-time and 1,919 part-time personnel. Local authorities have been encouraged to provide modern fire stations and standardised equipment and capital has been allocated for these purposes, over £1 million in the past ten years. Since 1968 my Department have organised a series of training courses for station officers and sub-officers which have proved very successful in providing a corps of instructors to undertake the training of firemen at local level. These courses are continuing as an on-going programme with a raising of standards as participants are seen to profit from more advanced training. Two instructional films have been made by my Department and distributed to all fire brigade authorities for use in training.
I am satisfied that the local authorities have made reasonable progress to date in providing an up-to-date service, but I am anxious to ensure that the process of improvement will continue and be stepped up as much as possible.
The general organisation of the service will be reviewed in the context of local government reorganisation generally. Concurrently I have put in hands a review of local authority staff structures and procedures, which covers the fire service as well as other local authority services, and to assist in this I have engaged consultants whose report I expect to receive shortly.
I have also made arrangements to augment the professional and administrative staff of my Department engaged on fire service duties. Functions of this staff will include a review of the position regarding fire protection and prevention, the need for and the form of new organisational arrangements, and the review of the Fire Brigades Act, 1940.
In view of the seriousness of this whole question would the Parliamentary Secretary not consider that an all-out national effort should be made to improve our fire services in view of the fact that subversive elements have said it was their aim to burn, bomb, use the bullet, explosives,et cetera? Would the Minister not, therefore, not look upon this as a serious question to be tackled immediately?
This function was delegated to me some time ago by the Minister and it is one in relation to which I regard steady progress as essential. Over the last ten years there has been substantial progress. The amount of money spent on the fire service in ten years increased from £500,000 to almost £2 million. We can have a much better fire service if we are prepared to pay for it, but in training and equipment there has been and there will be steady progress.
Should it not be looked upon as a national question? In some counties they have a first class, up-to-date fire fighting service but in others they have not. I am not an expert, but would the Parliamentary Secretary not think that all the fire fighting services should be brought up to date and made as efficient as possible and that there should be co-operation between the different counties?