CAMBS: Fire authority approves cuts totalling �5.3m

WIDE-ranging cuts to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service were approved at a fire authority meeting this afternoon (Thursday).

Recommendations for �5.3million of savings were given the green light to proceed at a three-and-a-half hour meeting at fire service headquarters in Huntingdon, with CFRS looking to plug a funding gap of at least �4.2m.

That will mean up to 40 redundancies from savings in non-operational roles, up to 15 from the proposed control merger with the Suffolk brigade and at least 25 wholetime firefighter jobs disappearing through more efficient shift patterns.

However, unions declared the discussion had been an “opportunity missed” and warned that their members would meet to discuss entering into formal dispute with the service – a process which could lead to industrial action.

Around 100 protesters lobbied the meeting at Hinchingbrooke Cottage as fire authority members arrived.

The authority agreed to take into account the views of the public on one of the most controversial measures – the switching of Huntingdon fire station cover from wholetime to day crewed plus – and report back with a business plan at a future fire authority meeting.

The cuts include entering negotiations with unions over new working patterns – limited to two shift systems proposed by the service.

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Deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland, who is leading the redesign project, said that cutting �4.2m would have a “minimal” impact on the front line.

“But there is only so much we can cut from the back office as we are already a lean organisation. Therefore we have found a potential further million by making cuts to the front line in areas that we feel will have the least impact on our operational response compared to other options.

“It will result in a slight increase in our response times in some areas but we believe this impact is tolerable when looking at our service as a whole.”

He said having to find savings of just �4.2m was “probably the best we could hope for” and that swift decisions would mean more savings made through natural wastage and fewer through enforced redundancy.

“If the worst case scenario does come to be, then every day that goes past without us making savings is a day less to make them.”

Further feasibility studies on potential savings are expected at the next authority meeting in October.

Kevin Napier, secretary of the Cambridgeshire FBU, said: “This is an opportunity missed. We are disappointed that members of the authority, formed just last week, did not take the chance to demand more time to consider the measures.”

He said that the decision to limit negotiations to two alternative shift systems would not be accepted by the FBU.

“If we are to enter negotiations over changes to the shift system, then all options need to be on the table. As a result, the fire authority has put us in a position where we will request an immediate meeting with our members where we will ask to enter dispute with the service.

“That could mean measures up to and including industrial action.”