Frontline fire service cuts decisions postponed until 2012

CAMBRIDGESHIRE and Peterborough Fire Authority has agreed to defer decisions on frontline cuts until next year.

Members of the authority unanimously accepted proposals from the senior fire service managers to put off deciding the future of major cuts projects, including the downgrading of Huntingdon fire station, until February 2012, when the financial picture is clearer.

The fire authority met at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service headquarters in Huntingdon today (Thursday) to hear how fire chiefs propose to meet budgetary pressures.

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland, overseeing the redesign project, once again warned that the anticipated �4.2m of cuts could be met without the front line suffering, but that if further cuts were required it would mean a deterioration in service.

Up to 70 jobs, including 25 full-time firefighters posts, will be lost under the arrangements.

The financial picture is unclear because of uncertainty over levels of Government funding, but other factors include inflation and Council Tax base growth rate – the number of taxpayers moving to the county. The Government completes its annual spending review in November, when more will be known of the service’s budgets.

Members were also told that measures they approved in May – including the removal of the service’s operational support unit, two turntable ladders, and the hazardous materials unit – had progressed.

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A business case on Huntingdon’s downgrading is being researched, to be voted on in February, and the future of St Ives and Ramsey’s second appliances will be decided in May 2012.

But questions were once again raised about the suitability of the combined aerial rescue appliances (CARAs) chosen the replace turntable ladder vehicles in Cambridge and Peterborough.

Cllr Fred Brown received a round of applause from firefighters in the public gallery for his suggestion that the CARAs were “not up to spec” and that legal action should be considered should they be found to not be fit for purpose.

His doubts were echoed by Cllr Sue Gymer, who requested that a full report on the capabilities of the CARAs be prepared and presented to the authority.

Decisions on the status of St Neots, Ely and Wisbech fire stations, the merger of the two Peterborough stations and the downgrading of Cambridge’s second pump were also deferred until February 2012.

Kevin Napier, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Cambridgeshire, welcomed the recommendations.

He said: “It was an encouraging meeting, and we are pleased to see the fire authority challenging and closely scrutinising the business case and proposals that are being put forward.

“We are happy with the deferral and being given more time to explore all areas before attention is given to cuts to the front line.

“The Fire Brigades Union will continue to oppose those, and will offer alternative methods to ensure the frontline service is maintained to the people of Cambridgeshire.”

Roy Pegram, chairman of the fire authority said: “The fire authority has agreed to postpone decisions that could impact on the level of service CFRS provides to the public until more is known about the financial situation the service is facing.”