Frontline fire services in Cambridgeshire could be hit after second round of cuts are agreed
Frontline fire services will be cut back if the government spending cuts reduce Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s budget by more than �4.3million this December. We have until then to defend the front line, to lobby the government and to put Cambridgeshire’s case, as CATHERINE BELL reports.
FIRE chiefs have approved a second round of potential cuts to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service that could affect frontline services – and The Hunts Post is now calling on its readers to help Save our Service and make sure the cuts don’t become reality.
The fire service’s senior management team has been working to save �4.3million from its budget since the results of the comprehensive spending review were published in 2010 but, with a final settlement not due to be announced until December, there are rumours from central government that they will need to save a further �2million – seriously impacting on frontline services across Cambridgeshire and with direct consequences for Huntingdonshire.
We want readers to sign our plea to the government, urging it not to cut our fire service’s funding by more than �4.3million. We will send our appeal, including a letter stating the case for the minimum level of cuts, to fire minister Bob Neill, who has a responsibility for the fire service in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The impact of severe cuts includes losing Huntingdon’s rescue vehicle and two fire engines – one each from the St Ives and Ramsey retained stations. Savings beyond �5.5million would lead to Huntingdon fire station being downgraded from a 24-hour station to day crew only – making 14 full-time fire fighters redundant. The loss of the town’s rescue vehicle would mean a reduction of 10 whole-time staff through natural wastage, although redundancies could be necessary.
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Across the county, more fire engines would be lost and two outlying fire stations closed.
We want central government to recognise the good work already made by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service in making savings and to stand by David Cameron’s election pledge that there would be “no cuts to the front line”. We understand that cuts are necessary in these times of recession but we want an assurance that they won’t exceed �4.3million – and won’t endanger the lives of local people.
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MEMBERS of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority agreed on Thursday (May 24) to a programme of potential cuts that fire bosses will have to implement if the funding settlement is worse than predicted.
Decisions affecting Huntingdonshire include implementing a five-watch shift system, which will result in the loss of 25 operational posts. The fire service has said these posts will be lost through “natural wastage” and will not impact frontline service.
Reductions in support functions, such as administration, handypersons and catering, were also given the green light, and it is these that will provide the rest of the savings in time for April 2013. These savings will result in a loss of 35 non-operational posts, more than a quarter of all non-operational posts.
It was also agreed to remove the second fire engines at St Ives, Ramsey and Soham fire stations – but only if the financial settlement in December results in a �4.6m overall cut to the budget.
Two rescue vehicles will also be lost in Cambridgeshire, leaving just one remaining to provide cover for the whole of the county. To mitigate any risk this might lead to, upgrades would take place to ensure that fire engines carry additional rescue equipment. A further business case will be developed to determine which rescue vehicles should be removed.
Further budget cuts would see the loss of two fire engines – one each from the St Ives and Ramsey retained stations.
Savings beyond �5.5million would lead to Huntingdon fire station being downgraded from a 24-hour station to day crew only – making 14 full-time fire fighters redundant.
Members also formally accepted Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s request to join the combined fire control, and they gave permission for a full business case to explore the potential for greater levels of cross-border working, up to and including a full merger between the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk services, which could make large savings in the future.
l Graham Stagg, chief fire officer at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We remain one of the leanest fire services in the country, and due to this we are unable to sustain cuts of over �4.3m without this having a negative impact on our frontline service. If they totalled �6m, this would be a reduction of about 20 per cent of our overall budget.
“It is also crucial to say that these are not cuts that we want to make, but it is right that we have planned for them.”
l Chris Strickland, deputy chief fire officer for CFRS, said: “The fire service still does not know how much money it will have to save in 2013/14 and 2014/15 and will find out this figure only once the fire service revised funding formula is published, less than four months in advance.
“This means that the service must plan now for the worst case scenario and be ready to implement this quickly if needed, to make sure it can make the savings in time.”
l Fred Brown, voted in as chairman of the authority at Thursday’s meeting, said: “A lot of sacrifice has taken place by frontline staff, non-operational staff, officers, managers and unions to ensure that the service was in a position to make the recommendations it did, and all those involved should be commended for this.”
l Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said he and fellow Cambridgeshire MPs had been lobbying the Government for the cuts to be proprtionate.
“Cambridgeshire is a lean fire service when compared with others and because of this cuts can quickly go to the front line,” he said. “There is room for more cuts – and like all public services it has to cut its cloth accordingly – but we don’t want the cuts to affect the front line.”
FOLLOWING a meeting of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority on Thursday last week, the Fire Brigades Union regional secretary, Adrian Clarke, told The Hunts Post that the cuts would impact on the safety of the public and on firefighters.
He said: “Safety is at risk and there is the potential for people to lose their lives. Downgrading fire stations, getting rid of fire engines, rescue vehicles and firefighters will be putting them and the public at risk.”
The FBU has warned that members would consider industrial action if stringent cuts were imposed.
Phil McQuillen, chairman of the Cambridgeshire FBU, said: “Rumours from central government are that the cuts will go beyond �4.3m, and clearly the only way the service can save that extra money would be frontline cuts.”