Fire chiefs urged to halt plans to close stations

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FIRE bosses in South Yorkshire are being urged to halt plans to close four fire stations, cut 140 jobs and reduce the number of appliances on the roads - with fears the cost-cutting measures could put lives at risk.

The county’s Fire Authority is set to consider the proposals on Monday - but, in a last-ditch effort to persuade members to ditch the plans, the Fire Brigades Union is calling for a rethink, claiming the cuts will put firefighters and the public at risk.

FBU members want South Yorkshire Fire Authority to give the go-ahead for cash reserves to be used to meet the reduction in Government funding expected over the next few years.

Fire chiefs have already had their budget reduced by £4.7 million, which they have to save by the end of March 2013, and, although they do not know what their budget will be reduced by for the following two years, they have been told to expect the cuts to be worse - leaving them facing a potential £10 million loss in total.

They are proposing to close Mansfield Road and Darnall fire stations in Sheffield, as well as retained stations in Mosborough and Royston.

A new station would be built near the Parkway in Sheffield and another in Birley.

Retained firefighters at Edlington would also be axed under the plan and three fire engines taken out of service.

In addition to 32 retained firefighters who would lose their jobs, 108 full-time firefighters due to retire over the next few years would not be replaced.

The FBU has accused the county’s fire chiefs of imposing the cuts too quickly, claiming the should not make plans until they know exactly how much they need to save - which will not be announced until later in the year.

The union claims South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue has £15 million in its coffers, which could be used to make ends meet rather than reducing stations and firefighter numbers.

FBU members have also publicised comments made in a report to the Government objecting to budget cuts, which was submitted by a number of Metropolitan fire services including South Yorkshire’s.

John Gilliver, South Yorkshire brigade secretary, said: “These cuts are too deep and it is far too soon to make them.

“There is no question they will lead to increased risks to the public and firefighters if they go ahead.

“There is a potential cash problem caused in London which we can solve, at least in part, in South Yorkshire. The authority can fill the budget gap by using part of the huge financial reserves it has built up.

“The Government grants won’t be set until the end of this year. It is ludicrous to start making incredibly risky cuts when you don’t need to.”

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue rejected the claim the proposed changes would put lives at risk, insisting they will have a ‘minimum impact’ on the public.

A spokesman said: “We don’t want to make these changes, but have already received a Government cut of £4.7 million and have been told the cut for 2013-15 will be even higher.

“We have therefore proposed changes which we believe will reduce our spending with the minimum impact on public safety.

“We call on the Government to confirm as early as possible the level of our cut in 2013-15, so we can effectively plan the use of our reserves.”