THE chairman of the South Yorkshire Fire Authority has launched a stinging attack on the Government for hitting Sheffield with ‘unfair’ and ‘disproportionate’ cutbacks which are set to mean the loss of 140 firefighting jobs.
Coun Jim Andrews, speaking exclusively to The Star, said South Yorkshire is shouldering far higher budget reductions than rural areas in the south of England.
The authority meets today to decide whether to approve proposals to close four South Yorkshire fire stations, take three roving fire engines out of service and cut 108 full-time and 32 part-time firefighers.
The measures, when added to already slashed management costs, will save the fire service £7 million a year, still short of the £10m the service needs to cut by 2015.
Coun Andrews told The Star: “We do not want to go down this route - but we have no choice.
“The reduction in our funds will hit us very hard. In 2011/12 we lost 9.5 per cent of our grant and we know that in the next few years to 2015 the cuts will be even bigger.
“But some areas, county forces in other parts of the country, have lost far less.
“Some leafy counties have actually got an increase in their grant - how can that be fair?”
Rural county forces such as Hampshire, East Sussex, Cheshire, Hereford and Essex had their government funding increased this year.
The cut to South Yorkshire’s funding is exacerbated because the force relies on most of its income from grants.
Other counties in richer areas of the country can take more money from council tax payments.
Coun Andrews and South Yorkshire Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney have written a joint letter to the Government Resource Review committee, together with the chief fire officers of the UK’s five other metropolitan areas, stating their opposition to the cuts.
The letter sets out the changes that will have to be made because of the ‘substantial’ and ‘damaging’ effects of the cuts due to come in the next four years.
The six metropolitan services outside London: South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands have shouldered 62 per cent of the nation’s fire cuts since the Coalition government came into power, despite employing half of the country’s firefighters and serving a quarter of the population outside London.
The letter, which has also gone to Prime Minister David Cameron, said: “Further cuts of the size indicated by the Government will impact on our ability to provide community safety and make a significant contribution to major or catastrophic incidents.”
Coun Andrews, who is deputy leader of Barnsley Council as well as a long-standing chair of the fire authority, said the reduction in the South Yorkshire force will mean the county’s firefighters may no longer be sent to major incidents elsewhere in the country.
“At the moment the smaller county forces do not have the manpower to deal with major fires, flooding or terrorist incidents, so we are often asked to help,” he said.
“In the future we will have to look very carefully as to whether that is something we are able to do.”