English fire services pay radically different amounts for equipment

Large differences in spending on hoses, helmets, waterproof jackets and portable ladders revealed in national review

 While the cost of firefighting products was broadly similar across the country, in some cases there were wide variations in prices paid. Photograph: Alamy

While the cost of firefighting products was broadly similar across the country, in some cases there were wide variations in prices paid. Photograph: Alamy

English fire services are spending radically different amounts on equipment, with some authorities paying as much as five times more than others for the same kit, according to new figures.

The large differences in spending appear in the first national overview of what each fire and rescue authority in England pays for common items of uniform and equipment.

The report published by the Home Office on Wednesday reveals that, while the cost of several products was broadly similar across the country, in some cases there were wide variations in prices paid:

Portable ladders were purchased at a cost of £4,189 in Humberside, compared with less than £1,500 in Hertfordshire.

The Oxfordshire service bought firefighting helmets for £252 each, more than double the £120 paid by Merseyside.

Cambridgeshire spent £262 per pair of firefighting trousers, while Wiltshire paid £147.50.

West Midlands paid £175 for leather firefighting boots, which were bought for £75 a pair by Cornwall.

The cost of jumpers ranged from less than £7 to almost £40 each, while some services spent almost £100 on waterproof jackets which were also bought for less than £20.

Hoses varied in price from £272 (Avon) to £115 (West Yorkshire).

Last year, figures revealed some police forces spent 10 times more than others on the same pieces of equipment.

Brandon Lewis, minister for policing and the fire service, said: “It makes no sense for fire and rescue authorities to buy separately when there are both financial and operational benefits to buying together. While some fire and rescue authorities are already collaborating on procurement and reaping the benefits, there is still a lot more to be done.”

Sean Starbuck, of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “We are already involved in a collaboration like this with more than 20 brigades around the country, and we welcome a national collaborative approach to the procurement of firefighters’ protective clothing and equipment. It will mean a move towards national standards for our members’ health and safety. Currently, a firefighter in one part of the country could be far less well protected than one in another because of differences in budget, and that just isn’t right. However, we need to be sure that quality is maintained and that this isn’t just another cost-cutting move.”

Fire and rescue services were asked to provide details on the last time they purchased 25 commonly procured items.

A note accompanying the figures from the Home Office said: “For some authorities, this was several years ago, and the general cost of certain items (electronic items in particular) may have changed in the intervening period.”