I am delighted to have taken on a new role in my Ministerial brief. The Government has decided that fire and rescue services should join the police brief in the Home Office so my new job title becomes Minister of State for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims.
This is a logical step, given that the two services often work side-by-side, but it in no way diminishes the independence of either service. It will make it possible for the two services to share back-office and support functions. It will not impact the day-to-day operational duties of the front-line staff only freeing them from some administrative work. If you dial 999 you will still be asked which service you require and if you request fire and rescue, firefighters will be dispatched to the scene just as before.
Within days of taking on the role, I visited the Lancashire village of Croston which was flooded on Boxing Day when Storm Eva battered northern England causing a breach in local flood defences. I met with the county’s Chief Constable, Chief Fire Officer and Police and Crime Commissioner as well as a lot of the police, firefighters and others who helped operate the pumps and with the rescue and the clear-up on the ground.
Both fire and rescue and the police did a fantastic job during the floods and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to thank them in person. We all owe a huge debt to the people who work in the emergency services, who put their communities before themselves and their families over the Christmas period.
At the end of last year I took part in a radio programme to mark the tenth anniversary of the Buncefield oil depot explosion. The programme was broadcast live from the Fire Station in Hemel Hempstead. It was interesting to look back and to talk to people who played an important role on the day. It is from big events such as Buncefield and the more recent floods that we learn what must be done to improve responses and ensure we have the right equipment in the future.
It is great to be able to make use of my experience as a firefighter in Essex, the local response to the Buncefield explosion and my work as Policing Minister to help these two services work closer together and learn from each other.
Photo: With the Fire and Rescue team at Croston