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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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Last chance to have say on Cumbria council cuts

Today is the last chance for the people of Cumbria to protest over controversial £80 million cuts to services.

Penrith fire service cuts photo
People gathered to protest about cuts to the fire service

An estimated 1,800 people have already given their views on the proposed budget cutbacks – the highest number ever received by Cumbria County Council for such a consultation.

The council has to save £80m over the next three years, including £24.4m in 2014/15 alone. A consultation document outlining 35 proposals went public last year, and residents have until midnight today to have their say.

If given the go ahead, the cuts would see bus subsidies axed, street lights switched off and new charges introduced for both residents’ and on-street parking.

A county council spokesman said: “Today is the last day of the consultation. There has been a strong response – more than we have ever received for a budget consultation of this type – which goes to show that people in Cumbria know what the impact of a budget of this type is.”

On Saturday hundreds joined a demonstration in Penrith against proposals to cut the number of fire engines in Cumbria.

Meanwhile, 2,000 signed a petition in Cockermouth against the introduction of on-street parking.

In Carlisle, campaigners have been calling for public support amid fears the 69 Stanwix to Holmehead service, through Carlisle city centre, could be axed.

The bus, run by operator Stagecoach, is used by hard-up families, pensioners and students.

However, one of the proposals which has sparked the biggest backlash is the plan to scale back the number of fire engines across the county.

Five fire stations, including Workington, Maryport and Penrith, could each lose one of their two engines.

Hundreds of concerned Penrith residents marched through the streets of the town on Saturday, calling for their fire engine to be saved.

The crowd was then addressed by politicians and firefighters, who called on the public to make their voices heard. Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, told them: “Please everybody send a letter or an e-mail to one of the cabinet members of the county council.”

Maureen Whitmore, from Penrith Chamber of Trade, said: “We feel the county council has failed to explain the justification for its actions, it has failed to explain how the new arrangements would provide an adequate fire service to our community and failed to explain how the new arrangements would be value for money.”

Several people in the crowd handed out a petition objecting to the proposal. The number of signatures was estimated at more than 1,000.

Dawn Coates, a retained firefighter who is a full-time teacher, said: “We are not interested in saving jobs, we are interested in saving lives.”

One person looking in on the event was councillor Patricia Bell, cabinet member for public health and community service at the county council.

She said: “I think it is good that people have turned out on a very wet day to show a passion for something they care about.”

However, she added that she could not express a view on the future of the fire engine until after the consultation had closed and the results had been examined.

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