Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

29 June 2017

Were fire safety audits and fire authority budgets cut by a quarter?

“Under [Theresa May’s] predecessor fire safety audits and inspections were cut by a quarter. Fire authority budgets were cut by a quarter.”

Jeremy Corbyn, June 28 2017

The number of fire safety audits carried out in England has fallen by about 25% since 2010

Fire safety audits are planned visits by fire safety officers to assess whether the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the legislation governing fire safety building regulations)  is being complied with. That involves doing a risk assessment, ensuring fire prevention measures are in place and taking action if they aren’t adequate.

In 2010/11 there were 84,575 such audits in England. The number of audits carried out has fallen by about 25 %—there were 63,201 fire safety audits in 2015/16.

The number of fire audits carried out on purpose-built flats of four storeys or more has also fallen, from 4,023 in 2010/11 to 3,534 in 2015/16 (a fall of about 12%). While there has been a steady decline in the number of fire safety audits generally, for these taller buildings there is a much less clear trend.

Fire authority budgets have been reduced

In 2015 the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report on the impact of funding reductions on fire and rescue services. It concluded, “since 2010, the government has reduced funding for fire and rescue authorities in England by between 26% and 39%.”

Fire authorities get funding from a few different sources such as government grants and council tax

The NAO said that for stand-alone fire authorities (30 of the 46 fire authorities in England) there had been a real terms reduction of 28% on average in total government funding. Labour have told us that this is what Mr Corbyn was referring to.

Once council tax and other income is taken into account, the total spending power of these stand-alone fire authorities has been reduced on average by 17% in real terms.

These reductions are almost solely due to reduced central government funding as the part of the budget for fire authorities supplied by council tax has remained stable.

There are other types of fire authorities though. Government funding for single tier and county councils fell by 40% over the same period. The NAO estimates that government funding for London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority also fell by 20%.

Have concerns been raised in the past about key fire safety laws?

“In 2005, it was a Labour Government who introduced the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order … this was commented on in the report on the Lakanal House fire; it criticised that 2005 order, which had been put in place by the Labour government.”

Theresa May, 28 June 2017

The main law on fire safety for businesses in England and Wales is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which came into effect in 2006 under the last Labour government. The key aim, when it was introduced, was to consolidate the existing legislation on fire safety into one place.

One of the provisions of the new legislation changed the rules on how buildings are assessed for fire risk and this is what the Prime Minister is talking about.

Before 2006, the rules were more complicated. In some cases, local fire brigades issued fire certificates to businesses when they were satisfied the premises met the required standards (and issued notices requiring changes where they weren’t).

The 2005 Order replaced the need for fire certificates with a risk-assessment approach, where a ‘responsible person’ (usually whoever is in control of the premises) has to ensure that a fire safety risk assessment of the building is carried out. If they’re not able to carry one out, this is done by a ‘competent person’ who needs to have “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities” to carry it out properly.

The inquest into the Lakanal House fire in 2009 unearthed concerns that there weren’t strict enough requirements for people conducting risk assessments to be qualified to do so, and for buildings to undergo the checks. The Coroner also told the government in 2013 that “there remains uncertainty about the scope of inspection for fire risk assessment purposes which should be undertaken in high rise residential buildings”.

Concerns about the 2005 Order were also raised by a Lords Committee which remarked ahead of its publication: “The Committee is concerned that there is a risk that the proposed fire safety regime (based on self-assessment) would not maintain the necessary protection provided by the current fire safety regime (based on fire safety certification).”

Of course, this doesn’t mean the Order was responsible for this fire or the more recent one at Grenfell tower. The public inquiry that’s been announced into the recent tragedy will cover the reasons in depth.

Local authorities' budgets are roughly 26% lower since 2010

“Local authorities… have had their budgets cut by 40% [since 2010].”

Jeremy Corbyn, 28 June 2017

Local councils in England have seen an average cut to their budgets of almost 26% since 2010, taking inflation into account, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The part of that that comes from central government—mainly through grants—has fallen by 38% over the same period, closer to Mr Corbyn’s figure. The final reduction is 26% because they also raise money locally, which didn’t fall by as much.

Labour told us that the 40% figure quoted by Jeremy Corbyn comes from a 2014 Local Government Association press release. Again, this figure only covers the money from central government, including some funding from changes to the rules on local business rates.

These figures are only broad averages, and individual councils have had different experiences. Councils that raise more of their money from council tax revenues or savings haven’t been hit as hard than others—typically in urban areas serving poorer communities—that are more reliant on central government grants.

We’ve discussed how council budgets have changed over the last few years previously.

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