Government meeting for Cambridgeshire’s chief fire officer

CAMBRIDGESHIRE’S highest ranking fire officers went to London last week to meet with the Government’s fire minister.

Chief Fire Officer Graham Staff and his deputy, Chris Strickland, met Bob Neill, the secretary of state for communities and local government, at his department headquarters in central London on Thursday (June 21).

It follows two tough years of budget cuts and fears that further funding restraints could put the county’s frontline service in danger.

The senior management team at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Hinchingbrooke HQ have identified �4.3million-worth of savings that can be made without jeopardising public safety. Jobs have already been lost from “back office” roles and services such as catering and maintenance have been scaled back or axed completely. Plans are currently being made to expand the service’s combined fire control, which would see Buckinghamshire join the existing partnership between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

Mr Strickland said Mr Neill acknowledged the work that CFRS has done so far.

“The minister listened carefully to our outline of the work the service has done to cut costs and our plea to limit CFRS’s budget reductions to �4.3 million, to enable us to minimise the consequential impact on frontline services,” he said. “He acknowledged the excellent work the service has been doing and recognised the issues we face in trying to make savings in what is already a lean organisation that delivers value for money.”

He said Mr Neill recognised the problems faced by rural services trying to deliver effective services with limited funding.

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Mr Strickland continued: “We left the meeting feeling that the fire minister had listened to us and recognised both the good work we have done and our concerns for the future of the service. We recognise that it is a difficult balancing act to ensure that funding is distributed in a way that doesn’t severely disadvantage any one service but we will continue to work with our authority and local MPs to lobby government and hope that they listen and respond positively to our legitimate concerns.”

A department spokesman said: “Fire and rescue authorities perform an incredibly important service for local communities. Despite the need to cut the national deficit - fire and rescue, as a frontline emergency service, has been protected to give more time for sensible savings to be made without impacting on the quality and breadth of services offered to communities. Savings could be found through sharing back office services, improved procurement and more flexible staff arrangements.

“The minister was pleased to meet recently Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Authority and hear how they were rising to this challenge.”