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£5.5m fire service cuts will 'put lives at risk'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 11, 2013

Fire chiefs and unions have united to oppose "savage" Government cuts which have left Devon and Somerset with the third worst funding deal in the country

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Fire chiefs and unions have united to oppose "savage" Government cuts which have left Devon and Somerset with the third worst funding deal in the country.

The service has announced it needs to shed 150 jobs after its grant was cut by £5.5 million or 17% over two years – the equivalent of a 24% council tax rise.

The chairman of Devon and Somerset Fire Authority is calling on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to rebalance the unfair grant system amid fears an even deeper cut of up to 30% is in the pipeline for 2016.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the reduction is unacceptable, risks destroying the fabric of the service, and puts "lives at risk".

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Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has pledged not to sack staff, close stations or remove even a single pump as it scales back spending over the next two years. But proposed changes include moving six "whole-time" crews to on-call working, culling senior managers and introducing a new fleet of smaller fire engines.

Fire authority chairman Mark Healey said he was "hell-bent" to find out why the service had dropped from third from top to third from bottom of the UK funding table of 58 fire services.

Nine of the region's MPs are said to have backed a protest and a bid to secure more cash, though realistically no improved settlement is expected in time for this year.

"I am personally disappointed as we have done a lot of lobbying to deal with this sparsity issue," Mr Healy said.

"In Bristol or London you have massive amounts of cash to play with while we are always worse off in larger geographical areas – it is unbalanced.

"Every time we turn out it costs more but we are expected to continue to go out and rescue people now with £110,000 per week less."

The grant has been reduced by 10.3% for the year 2013/14 and by 7.3% for the following year.

Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell outlined plans to scale down three of Plymouth's seven crews to "on-call", doing the same with one crew in Taunton, one in Torquay and another in Ilfracombe.

Mr Howell said an analysis of areas where calls were dwindling allowed crews to be scaled back safely.

"Rather than cut services and blame the Government we have tried to think our way out of this difficult set of circumstances," he added.

FBU spokesman Bob Walker said: "After the recent floods and fires that firefighters have dealt with so professionally, the cuts would be a real kick in the teeth for both the public and the service."

The fire authority will discuss the proposals next Friday and, if agreed, there will be a 12-week public consultation.

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  • Talksensetq  |  January 15 2013, 8:11AM

    As a member of the armed forces I know how the fire fighters feel, they are expected to keep giving the same standard of cover or do more with less and less year on year! These level of cuts that the government want to push through can only result in putting the lives of the people of Devon & Somerset at greater risk! I find it hard to believe that there won't be any loss of fire engines and that comment is no doubt spin or justified by some facts that in the real world would never happen. Unfortunately the public will not speak out against these cuts until something tragic happens and then it will be too late! They will wonder how our emergency services got to be in such a terrible state when there are bankers being paid millions of pounds even though they fail at their posts and tax cuts it would seem being given to the rich!

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  • Nonnymoose  |  January 11 2013, 2:12PM

    I foresee a time in the not too distant future when insurance companies will have their own Fire Brigades and will only attend fires in properties they have insured. To make sure they can identify who has insured a property, it will have the insurance company logo prominently displayed..... Hang on a minute; isn't this how our national Fire Service started a few hundred years ago?

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