Decision due on future of South Yorkshire fire service when bosses meet in September
Some South Yorkshire residents have been paid to give their opinions as South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has gathered consultation material which will help to shape the future of the county’s brigade.
Politicians who make up the county’s Fire and Rescue Authority, the body which controls the operational service, will meet in September to make decisions on how to plug a potential £4m black hole which has emerged in its finances.
Consultations have been going on since early summer and will continue until the start of next month, when information is packaged into a report for authority members to consider.
Official bodies including trade unions and the county’s district councils are among those asked for opinions and suggestions on how to save the cash, but the public have also been asked to take part.
While it has been possible for anyone to leave feedback, four ‘focus’ sessions have also been held, one in each council area, to seek opinions from members of the community on the ways they would prefer to see cuts take place.
Those attending were paid around £50 for the session, with 29 individuals taking part across the county, from 32 who where invited to participate.
They were given four options, including the preferred solution of cutting fire crews from five to four, and discussed the options before feeding back their thoughts.
That information is now being processed to form part of the report which will be considered by the authority.
Another option would be reduce numbers of fire engines which are available 24 hours a day, making cuts to managers and ‘back room’ services or using the £23m ‘reserves’ the service has to continue as normal.
The final option could not be a long term solution, however, because some of that cash is already earmarked for investments to help the service continue in future. The money that remains would eventually be exhausted, leaving a combination of no money to support the service in future and no safety net to cope with emergencies.
The financial uncertainty has been caused largely by the Government recalculating the cost of pensions for firefighters, which had been under-estimated.
If ministers decide to take up responsibility for some or all of the shortfall it would reduce the shortfall the service needs to cover.