Fire cuts alternative revealed

FIREFIGHTERS last week delivered their alternative to fire service budget cuts with the “stark warning” that they are prepared for industrial action.

FIREFIGHTERS last week delivered their alternative to fire service budget cuts with the “stark warning” that they are prepared for industrial action.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has vowed to examine the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) proposals, which shift the focus of the cuts from the front line to further up the organisation.

The fire authority’s suggested savings include the possible downgrading of Huntingdon fire station, removal of turntable ladders, scrapping of the Huntingdon rescue vehicle and the loss of at least 25 full-time firefighter positions.

The FBU’s alternative �5m savings budget includes reductions in middle and senior management staffing, pay and bonuses, which it says could save up to �750,000 annually, economies in the officer car fleet (�433,000), an increase in Council Tax precept (�150,000) and a review of the number of fire engines purchased annually (�400,000).

However, the FBU has retained more than �3m of the �5.3m cuts approved by the fire authority in May.

The FBU’s biggest individual saving comes from purchasing just one new fire appliance a year instead of three, a change made possible by the quality of Cambridgeshire’s current appliances and extending their working life, said FBU Cambridgeshire secretary Kevin Napier.

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Firefighters, officers and control staff gathered in Huntingdon on Thursday (June 30) to hear Mr Napier describe the May 26 fire authority meeting as “the worst day ever to be a firefighter”.

He told the 100-strong crowd: “There is a case for us to take this budget back to the fire authority and get a redress on it. It is not wrong for us to ask for that.”

Mr Napier said the alternative budget would have “far less of an impact on frontline 999 services” and that the union was keen to work with the service.

“However, we also issue a warning: Firefighters never want to take industrial action but we will fight against frontline cuts and take such measures needed to defend against these reductions that we believe put our communities, the lives of the public and of firefighters at risk.”

That industrial action would not necessarily be strike action, he added, but could include other measures such as the removal of goodwill or a ban on overtime.

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland, who is overseeing the redesign, said it was “pleasing” that the FBU had accepted some of the authority’s proposals, including the merger of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fire controls.

He added: “I fully understand why the FBU has presented proposals that aim to protect the interests of its members by suggesting measures that would preserve their shift system by making cuts across other parts of the service.

“Having received the proposals only at the end of last week, it is too early for us to comment in more detail, but we will be going through each one thoroughly.”

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