Fire Cuts: “Too many, Too Quick, Too Soon”

CAMBRIDGESHIRE Fire and Rescue Service has been accused of “making hay while the sun shines” by proposing to remove 25 whole time fire-fighter positions as part of its spending review.

The service has now unveiled a list of 12 priorities which, if accepted, could deliver savings of �5.2m – more than the service’s estimated shortfall of �4.2m by 2014-15.

Fire bosses said that the cuts, which include a proposal to remove one of the two appliances from Ely, were a chance to make improvements across the service in readiness for further cuts in the future, and would have a “minimal” impact on frontline delivery.

But Kevin Napier, Cambridgeshire secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said the cuts were “too many, too quick and too soon”.

The measures, the result of four feasibility studies commissioned in February, will be debated at a fire authority meeting next Thursday (May 26). They include recommendations to downgrade Huntingdon fire station from a whole time cover to day crewed plus cover, remove the second appliances from Ramsey, St Ives and Ely, and close Manea fire station.

A review of shift patterns to get more working hours from fewer staff would see a reduction of 25 whole time posts, expected to be achieved through natural wastage, and save �900,000.

Mr Napier said: “The service has made it clear they are looking at reducing the number of whole time fire-fighters, and that has serious ramifications. This is not about the spending review – the service is making hay while the sun shines.”

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Relocating or removing under-utilised specialist appliances from stations – including removing Huntingdon’s rescue vehicle – and trimming another �1m from back-office function will make up the balance of the proposed savings. Six further potential efficiency savings will be discussed in September.

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland said the force had been as transparent as possible about the savings, but acknowledged that the brunt of the cuts would fall on staff.

“What is uppermost in our minds is that this will have a significant effect on our staff across the whole of the service. We are looking at the possibility of a significant reduction and we are working with our staff to support them through a very difficult time.”

Mr Strickland warned that the savings target could rise beyond �4.2m– if interest rates remain high or government grants are not as high as expected following a review in 2013.

Roy Pegram, chairman of the fire authority said: “It is important to stress that these are recommendations by the service at this stage. No decision will be made until all members have had time to debate and discuss the recommendations at the Fire Authority meeting.”