Fire authority urged to defer cuts decision

CALLS are growing for the deferral of the crucial decision on the future of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Fire authority members for the coming year were approved last week, with six newcomers to the authority from the 17 councillors. On Thursday, they will discuss plans to cut more than �5million from the service’s budget in order to meet a deficit of at least �4.2m.

An early day motion has been tabled by Cambridge MP Julian Huppert calling for the deferral of any decision until the next meeting in early autumn, in order to give the new fire authority more time to assess the plans.

Long-standing fire authority member Councillor Geoffrey Heathcock said that even a one-month deferral would allow new members to gain a greater understanding of the ramifications of the decision.

He said: “As someone who has served for over 14 years, I know that you cannot just pick this up in a week. It takes time, and it should take time. A one-month deferral would have allowed members time for more briefings from senior officers, where they would have had the chance to ask all the technical questions they need.”

Last week, deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland said the service had organised in-depth briefing sessions for members in the run-up to Thursday’s meeting, to ensure they were equipped to make an informed decision.

Cllr Roy Pegram, chairman of the fire authority, said: “Members will be informed and aware of all the implications of the paper prior to the fire authority meeting. That is the duty of the officers to ensure that happens.”

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The suggestion of deferral has been welcomed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), whose general secretary, Matt Wrack, will attend the meeting.

Cambridgeshire FBU secretary Kevin Napier said: “We believe the fire authority’s inexperience means the decision should be deferred, because of the lack of knowledge of the members, and the need for them to catch up. Members who have been in the post for a week should not be asked to make the biggest decision of their lives.”

If approved, the plans could lead to the downgrading of Huntingdon fire station, the introduction of a new duty system, and the loss of at least 25 whole-time firefighter posts.

With more than 100 firefighters and members of the public expected to attend, the service has taken steps to ensure as many people as possible can witness the proceedings.

With only 50 spaces in the public gallery, a public address system will be set up to broadcast the meeting outside.

A spokesman said: “We know there is going to be a lot of interest, and we are doing all we can to allow as many people in as possible. Those in the public gallery will be a cross-section, to make sure everyone is represented.”

A change of venue had not been considered, as the meeting had been well publicised in advance, she added.