Minister criticised for fire meeting no-show

Wednesday night's meeting about proposed changes to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, held at the John Pounds Centre in Portsea Picture: Jason Kay
Wednesday night's meeting about proposed changes to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, held at the John Pounds Centre in Portsea Picture: Jason Kay
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THE minister for Portsmouth has been heavily criticised for having a ‘record of failure’ after not going to a public meeting about huge changes to the fire service in the city.

Mark Francois is also the fire minister – something Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson has lambasted the MP for as he did not attend the packed meeting on Wednesday.

‘He wasn’t there. Neither were any of our MPs there and the leader of the council wasn’t there,’ Cllr Vernon-Jackson said.

He added: ‘As far as I can see what he’s done is to fail to get any jobs doing shipbuilding in the dockyard. He looks as if he’s failing to protect the fire service in Portsmouth so it looks like a record of failure.

‘Strangely, it’s not been the same for all of them. Michael Fallon actually did a good job.

‘Unfortunately others who followed from him haven’t.’

The position was created in January 2014 in the wake of the decision to axe shipbuilding in Portsmouth. After Mr Fallon, Matthew Hancock held the post from July 2014 to May this year.

The meeting at the John Pounds Centre heard concerns from the Fire Brigades Union and residents who fear there will be inadequate cover if Southsea fire station’s staffing is reduced.

It comes as Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is holding a consultation over changes following budget cuts.

The service assured residents it would not make changes that put lives at risk.

Councillor Donna Jones, Tory council leader, said she couldn’t make the meeting as she was going to Dublin for a leaders’ conference.

But she said she has met fire officials and reiterated it was important not to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation.

Cllr Jones said: ‘I’ve sent a response to the consultation and met the chief fire officer and spoke to the group commander. I’ve consulted with everyone that I have needed to, and I am happy with the consultation.

‘Councillors individually have a responsibility to feed into the consultation.

‘I don’t think the council as an organisation should be pre-empting or interfering with the outcome of the consultation.’

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: ‘Ministers are always happy to consider invitations and visits if their diaries permit. However, in this instance no invitation was received.’