Fire chiefs urged to put cuts to a public vote

By Ian Dipple Tuesday 20 May 2014 Updated: 22/05 09:52

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

THE PUBLIC should be given a referendum on whether or not cuts should be made to the county's fire service, including the loss of an engine at Redditch.

Members of the county's Fire Brigades Union have challenged bosses at Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) to put the £4million savings plan to a public vote.

As the Standard reported in February the proposals would see 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.

Concerns have been raised if the cuts go-ahead Redditch will be left covering an area stretching from Wythall out to Inkberrow and into Alcester.

But a Labour amendment was narrowly passed with the support of other councillors to give the service another £485,000 and more time to consider the impact of the cuts. Conservative councillor Phil Groves was later suspended for voting against the party by backing the amendment.

At the time it was suggested the new money could be enough to save the three retained crews under threat, including Redditch, but the outcome of those discussions will not be known until the fire authority meets on June 9.

Julian Jenkins, FBU chair for Hereford and Worcester, said average response times for Hereford and Worcester had already slowed by about 90 seconds over the last four years as a result of cuts.

"If local politicians are so confident these cuts are in the public interest, why not allow a referendum? We’ve collected thousands of signatures against the proposals, yet most people had never heard of their consultation. As well as worrying about their safety, local people are rightly concerned that they will be paying the same amount of council tax for a much reduced service."

A spokeswoman for HWFRS said it was inappropriate to discuss the matter ahead of the June meeting.

But Coun Derek Prodger, chair of Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority, has previously ruled out a referendum asking people to pay more in council tax to cover the savings as too costly.

"A referendum cost wise is about £400,000 to £500,000 with balances of £1million or thereabouts that's where the revenue comes from to do that referendum and if you don't get the support of the public for that referendum you have actually lost a lot of money."

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