Last ditch budget move may save fire crew

By Ian Dipple Friday 21 February 2014 Updated: 24/02 11:47

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Buy photos » Members of the Fire Brigades Union protested outside County Hall. Picture by Marcus Mingins 0814016MMR

PLANS to cut one of the part-time crews from Redditch Fire Station have been temporarily put on hold after an eleventh hour bid to give the service more money was approved.

Councillors were set to rubber stamp proposals put forward by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service at a meeting on Wednesday (February 19) to cut £4million from the authority’s budget over the next three years including £1.7million from the frontline.

It would have seen the loss of five engines across the two counties, including one of the retained crews at Redditch, leaving the borough with just one full-time and one part-time crew. The Fire Brigades Union estimates about 20 firefighters could be made redundant.

But Labour councillors made a last minute amendment to take £485,000 out of the service’s £1.5million savings to lessen the impact of the cuts, despite objections from the Conservatives the budget for 2014/15 was balanced and any additional cash would be better spent in future years.

It has been suggested the new money could be enough to save the three retained crews under threat, including Redditch, but final details will not be known until the next meeting of the authority in June.

Coun Andy Fry said reducing Redditch’s fire cover was dangerous in an area with high levels of deprivation, where fires are more likely, and cuts by fire services in the West Midlands and Warwickshire could leave the the town’s fire station covering an area stretching from Wythall into parts of South Warwickshire.

“One whole time and one retained crew will not be enough to cope and that puts people in genuine danger. It’s a deprived area and people are likely to die because of these cuts because there won’t be the fire cover to keep them safe.”

Julian Jenkins, chair of the Hereford and Worcester branch of the FBU, welcomed the move but added it was probably only delaying the inevitable. He warned the proposals for Redditch could result in an extra five minutes being added to the current fire crew response times of between eight and ten minutes.

“Are you happy you are going to wait five minutes longer while your house is filling with smoke or you are trapped in that car? People will get hurt, people will die.”

Chief Fire Officer Mark Yates said they would re-examine their proposals following the authority’s decision but warned the money would only last 12 months.

“The funding gap is still there, we still need to find £4million over the next three years,” he said.

“Proposals to remove resources from the fire service is a dark day. I’m a fire officer of 30 years experience and I didn’t join or become a chief fire officer to remove resources.

“But I did come to do my best job and if that best job involves removing resources to balance the budget then that is what I must do even though I don’t personally wish to.”

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