Fire service delays decision on cuts across Cambs

KEY budget decisions at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service could be postponed until next year as the service waits for its financial position to become clearer.

The service is optimistic that the worst-case scenario of �6million of cuts could be reduced by �1m, and wants to wait for confirmation before proceeding with plans to cut frontline services.

But, at a briefing today (Thursday) ahead of a fire authority meeting on October 13, deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland warned that the �4.2m of savings already identified would hit the service’s staff hard.

“It’s the most difficult thing anyone in this organisation has ever had to go through,” he said. “This is unheard of for Cambridgeshire.”

Up to 40 non-operational staff jobs will be lost as the support service cuts �2.6m, and 25 firefighter jobs will go if the brigade converts to a new and more efficient shift pattern, saving �900,000.

Unions welcomed the service’s recommendation to defer decisions on the front line, but expressed concern at the loss of firefighters.

The support jobs will be lost from back-office functions across the county, and would include some compulsory redundancy, said Mr Strickland, while it is hoped the firefighter jobs could be reduced through natural wastage.

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Any further cuts beyond the �4.2m already earmarked would impact the front line.

Mr Strickland said: “We believe it’s only right that we make key decisions which impact on the level of service to the public when we have an accurate picture of the financial situation, and not before.”

The business case for downgrading Huntingdon fire station will continue to be built, to be considered by the authority in February 2012.

The decision on the second appliances at St Ives and Ramsey, closure of Manea fire station, and five other retained appliances, will be made in May 2012.

Mr Strickland also said that the service would look to continue working with other services to save money and improve efficiency.

Plans to answer Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s calls at Hinchingbrooke have been unveiled, and will be put their fire authority in anticipation of a move in 2013 – and more brigades could follow.

“We are looking at expanding the control room to include Buckinghamshire, purely because it’s a more cost-effective way of doing things, that will benefit the community,” said Mr Strickland. “We will be expanding where there is a business case to do so.”

Kevin Napier, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Cambridgeshire, said postponing frontline cuts decisions was the correct thing to do.

“The recommendations have been the result of a lot of hard work from the FBU and campaign groups. It means that we are in a better place today, but we are not completely resolute that we’ll find the required savings without an impact on the front line.”

A decision on the service’s recommendations will be made at the fire authority meeting next Thursday (October 13).