Last Thursday’s meeting of the Derbyshire Fire Authority was a textbook example of why people are so cynical about today’s politicians.
Having themselves raised the spectre of closure of Dronfield’s 70-year old fire station in a consultation paper last year, the leadership of the Fire Authority spent most of the day patting themselves on the back for withdrawing their own plan in the face of fierce opposition from around the county.
Firstly, the good news: Dronfield Fire Station is not being immediately closed and the Authority has backed off from the initial closure threat made last year. That’s one step forward and, ultimately, one that I welcome as good news for the people and businesses of the town and surrounding areas.
That retreat by the Fire Authority has only been possible because the residents of Dronfield and elsewhere rose up, en masse, to oppose a plan which took no account of the depth of feeling of local communities about their fire stations. Dronfield residents can rightly be proud of all the work they did in the Autumn and Winter – an example of how people power can make their voices heard. But have they truly been listened to?
And that is where the sting in the tail comes in. The immediate threat to close Dronfield may have gone, but in withdrawing the plan last week, the Fire Authority missed an opportunity to guarantee the future of the fire station. At the same time, they also were clearly exposed as having no long-term plan to deal with the financial challenges caused by years of government overspending before 2010. And, in time, that means the threat of closure will probably return.
Already the cracks are starting to appear in what the Fire Authority agreed on Thursday. The decision itself is rather contradictory – stopping the immediate plans to close fire stations in one breath but then stating that “no change is not an option” in another. Our local MP cheerfully declaring that there will be “no fire station closures”, completely ignoring the fact that the Chief Fire Officer himself said on Thursday that 31 fire stations cannot be kept open.
The result: a right old mess caused by politicians who are thinking about elections, rather than the long-term good of the County’s fire service.
And that is why the Derbyshire Labour Party, who control the Fire Authority, have so many questions to answer.
Will they give a long-term, unequivocal guarantee on the future of Dronfield fire station?
How do they define “last resort” – the wording they use to now talk about fire station closures in the document agreed last week?
Why allow civil servants to initially put forward hundreds of pages of proposals on future fire provision only to refuse to provide any detailed plan in the response to that consultation?
And, on the week when the Fire Authority hiked council tax by 1.9%, how much money did they spend on a bungled consultation which they appear to have abandoned when the pressure is on?
This is precisely the kind of muddled confusion which gives politicians a bad name. The fudge is a short-term sugar rush with a likely long-term hangover for Derbyshire. Dronfield residents responded to the consultation in good faith that they would have clarity on the future of Hallowes Lane. We’ll keep fighting until they do.
Viva la fire-estación!