Fire chiefs urged to use reserves to save jobs

John Gilliver Matt Wrack and Nigel Hodges
John Gilliver Matt Wrack and Nigel Hodges
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FIREFIGHTERS have branded proposed frontline cuts ‘a disgrace’ ahead of a meeting to discuss plans to axe 140 posts and close four fire stations in South Yorkshire.

The Fire Brigades Union claims the cuts cannot be justified when the county’s fire service has reserves of £15 million in the bank and is to receive a 3.95 per cent increase in council tax precepts this year.

The union has spoken out before a meeting of South Yorkshire Fire Authority on March 26, when plans to reduce costs because of Government funding cuts will be discussed.

Among the proposals put forward, which have been out to public consultation, are the closure of four fire stations, the construction of two new ones and the loss of one-in-five frontline posts.

South Yorkshire FBU brigade secretary John Gilliver said: “At public consultation meetings people made clear they were prepared to back a council tax increase if it prevented frontline cuts.

“The budget meeting has put forward plans which it expects to be rubber-stamped that will see people paying more and getting a much reduced service.

“This is a disgrace, these cuts are not necessary. There was an under-spend last year of £2 million and the reserves are awash with cash.”

Fire chiefs, who have had their budget cut by £4.7 million for the 2011-2012 period, are still waiting to find out how much they are set to lose between 2013 and 2015 but have been told to expect more than the first round of cuts.

Coun Jim Andrews, chairman of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, has called on the Government to announce the next set of funding cuts now.

“If they would tell us now, we could make firm plans for the future and have more confidence in our future needs for reserves. They have caused such uncertainty that our medium-term annual budget could vary by up to £6 million, depending on the size of the cut. So we need to keep our reserves to plan for the worst.

“The FBU has criticised us for the level of our reserves but I would challenge them to join with us in asking the Government for immediate clarity and opposing the real reason for our financial position, which is Government cuts. Will they join with us in this common cause?”

n The authority has put up its council tax precept by around 5p per week to bring in an extra £900,000 per year to offset cuts to frontline services.