Today’s columnist, James Courtney: Safety first in spite of cuts

Firefighters take part in a 'terror attack' training excercise at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster.
Firefighters take part in a 'terror attack' training excercise at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster.
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I discovered before Christmas that the latest round of government funding reductions mean we expect to lose another £5 million from our annual budget over the next four years.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has already lost more than £8 million since 2010 and we have so far managed to minimise the impact of those cuts on our core emergency response service by reductions in support staff, managers and non-pay budgets.

We have also introduced alternative ways of staffing fire stations, which has reduced costs while maintaining a similar level of fire cover.

As Chief Fire Officer, my concern is that our overall quality of service, including our ability to respond to national emergencies such as flooding and terrorism, could be threatened.

South Yorkshire firefighters and vehicles twice travelled to support the national response to severe flooding in December, helping communities in Lancashire and Cumbria.

I know that we already provide excellent value for money to the people of South Yorkshire with one of the leanest fire services in the country, considering the size of the area we have to cover and the risks associated with a large, urban population.

Unfortunately, we are not being afforded the same financial protection as the police or ambulance services.

I am concerned about the ways this may affect our service in the long term, including our ability to respond to national emergencies such as flooding and terrorism-related incidents.

The Government also announced recently that fire and rescue services will come under Home Office control, with the Home Secretary previously stating that she wants to follow through reforms in areas such as procurement, IT infrastructure and building management.

We are already exploring significant collaboration opportunities with the police in a number of areas, from fleet management and sharing premises to the new joint police and fire station in Maltby, which will open later this year.

We are also assisting the ambulance service in a number of areas operationally, from gaining access to properties at emergencies to jointly responding to some types of medical incidents.

We will continue to pursue opportunities for further and more efficient working with all of our emergency service partners, but I still believe the fire service has some unique skills and specialisms which must be protected.

My commitment to you, the people we are here to serve, is that in my capacity as Chief Fire Officer I will continue to put the safety of the people of South Yorkshire first, in spite of the difficult financial situation we continue to face.