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Saturday, 02 August 2014

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Fury over cuts to Cumbria fire service

Lives will be put at risk if drastic cost-cutting measures to slash the number of fire appliances come into force as part of £80m county council savings, it has been claimed.

David Moore photo
David Moore

Fierce criticism of the proposed cuts to the authority’s fire and rescue budget came as staff across the council were left reeling at the news that more than 600 jobs are at risk.

As part of a stringent review to bring council spending under control the number of fire engines in Workington, Whitehaven and Maryport could be halved.

Council leaders said the scale of the £80m cuts across the authority – needed in response to a drop in government funding – were “unprecedented”.

Unions warned the council faces having to cut “too far and too fast” and pledged to fight compulsory redundancies.

The jobs threat comes as the authority battles to meet funding cuts of £80m over the next three years and follows on from £88m lost since 2010. More than 700 council employees have already been made redundant in the past three years. There are currently just under 7,500 employees.

The job losses and fire service cuts are just two of several measures outlined to help the council meet cuts of £24m in the first year alone.

Under the fire and rescue cuts one of two fire appliances will be removed at stations in Workington, Whitehaven, Maryport, Penrith and Kendal. Crew arrangements would also be reviewed across Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, saving in total £540,000.

Dave Burn, chairman of the Cumbria Fire Brigades’ Union, said the safety of the public and firefighters would be “seriously compromised” if the changes came into force.

And David Moore, who has been a firefighter at Seascale for 42 years, has warned that the retained stations are already struggling to cope and further cuts would be “dangerous”.

Mr Moore, who retired from the service two weeks ago, said that during the day time, retained stations rely heavily on support from community stations.

He said: “A lot of retained stations are now struggling to give day cover, especially in the rural areas, and now rely on Workington and Whitehaven stations. If they don’t have that support, they are very vulnerable. Any reduction in fire cover has to be an ailment of risk on public life.”

Mr Moore added that nuclear plant Sellafield, although it has its own small brigade, relies on help from neighbouring stations in Cumbria.

Mr Burn, of the FBU, said although the union understood the need for savings, it opposed any reduction in fire appliance availability.

“As taxpayers we already pay for a first class service that is provided on a shoestring budget,” he said. “The council propose to increase council tax for everyone but offer a reduction in fire appliance availability.

Deputy council leader Jo Stephenson, said it was “simply not possible to make the savings without reducing the number of people we employ”.

“Each and every reduction is a deep regret to us,” he said. “It is unprecedented. Nothing like this has been attempted since the Depression.”

Union leaders said they would not support compulsory job losses and vowed to fight to keep “as many posts as possible”.

Others measures include charging £25 for residents’ parking permits, cutting subsidies for bus routes by £1.9m and slashing £350,000 from the budget for home to school and college transport.

“This is a time for tough decisions, and making difficult choices about what is really important,” Mr Stephenson added.

“We must remember what we aren’t cutting back on – protecting what we consider to be the most vital services and the most vulnerable service users.”

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