Today’s columnist, James Courtney: Ensure cuts spread fairly

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I was pleased to welcome eight firefighter recruits to our training centre in Sheffield last month.

The fact that we received well over 1,000 applications for these roles is proof to me that firefighting remains a particularly popular and sought-after profession.

The recruits underwent a rigorous process and are rightly proud to be joining an organisation which plays such a pivotal and valued role in the community.

Initial training for trainee firefighters lasts 12 weeks and the new recruits will be posted to their respective fire stations in the New Year.

This was the first time we have recruited new firefighters in almost seven years.

My fear is that it could be at least that long before we are able to recruit for these roles again, if the cuts to our service continue.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is among the services to have been hit hardest by Government spending cuts, with our annual budget having reduced by around £10 million from 2011 to 2015, a real terms reduction of roughly 25 per cent.

These cuts ignore the fact that South Yorkshire has some of the highest levels of social risk in England, making our communities particularly vulnerable to fire and other emergency incidents.

Our service is among the best performing in the country for preventing fires, responding to emergencies and making the efficiency savings that have been asked of us, yet we are being hit hardest in terms of cuts.

One reason for this is that there is a massive difference in the way different fire and rescue services are funded, with a much larger proportion of our income coming from central Government, compared to services in other parts of the country where more of their funding is generated from local council tax returns.

The case I am making to the Government, along with other fire chiefs in urban areas, is to ask for changes to ensure that when cuts are made, the impact is more evenly spread across fire and rescue services nationally, so that metropolitan services like South Yorkshire are not unfairly disadvantaged and we are properly funded according to the level of risk in our communities.