Funding cuts hit fire service

Following severe warnings from the Fire Brigades Union over government mishandling of the service, cuts have been announced in the Northeast and Southwest of the country. Freedom newspaper reports

Submitted by Rob Ray on January 25, 2008

After a grants round which saw a large drop in funding for some sectors, cutbacks are set to bite heavily in North Yorkshire and the South West.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Authority want to make budget cuts of £ 4 million over the next three years, with four stations closing despite having done better than most out of the spending round. Local fire crews estimate the cuts will see the loss of one in ten frontline firefighter posts. In nearby Kirton Lindsey and Immingham, two in ten will go. Cleveland fire authority says it needs to make savings of at least £2.1 million.

In Devon meanwhile, a £1.8 million shortfall has led to plans for full-time cover to be slashed at Ilfracombe, Exmouth, Paignton and Plympton fire stations, and in Cornwall a demonstration took place earlier this month against cuts there.

FBU rep Duncan Milligan, interviewed for Freedom, said the cuts are part of a continuous loss of funding which is hitting services hard: “Since 1997 there’s been a cut of 1,500 firefighters, to 30,700. There’s been a ten-year downward trend in employment but the work has been expanding greatly including responsibility for major incidents.

“What has happened this year is the new spending grant, which has affected some areas very badly. In our view money is being diverted into the regional fire control centre project rather than going into front lone services.

“The cuts in recent years, the pressure from grants really being squeezed is that money being held back because of the mounting costs of the project. We are convinced that costs are going to really mount up in the next year or so.”

The union has found that plans to replace all forty six of the fire service’s local 999 command and control centres in England with nine regional control centres are already running years late and are massively over budget. In parliamentary questions, it was revealed that the original £100m budget set aside for implementation of the project has ballooned to £1.4bn, which only covers 15 of the planned 25-year lease being committed to.

The government have said that the upward revision of the figure is largely down to the incorporation of IT services, yet the contract awarded to EADS Defence and Security Systems last March only accounts for £200m of that figure, and £400m of the increase has occurred within the last 12 months. The project, which was originally slated to open its first centre in November 2006, has overrun by a massive three years and is now due to open in October 2009.

Firefighters in the East, where the last facility is due to go online, will now be confronted with the prospect of waiting until May 2011 working in facilities which won’t be updated, as funds are put aside for the regional system

As the cuts continue, it has been found that while domestic deaths from fire are continuing to fall, five out of the last six years have been the worst on record for losses to commercial services, and firefighter deaths are at a 30-year high.

By Rob Ray