Fire service cuts in Rotherham questioned by councillor

South Yorkshire fire truck
South Yorkshire fire truck

Pressure remains to reverse a cut to fire cover in Rotherham with a councillor insisting the South Yorkshire brigade has been operating with a cash surplus for the last eight years.

Coun Robert Elliott quoted figures for South Yorkshire Authority – the body which oversees the fire service – finances over the last eight years, with annual under-spends of up to £3.5m.

He questioned the future of the second appliance at Rotherham’s central fire station, which was downgraded to being crewed only during the daytime, which risks are highest, as part of the brigade’s austerity cuts.

That decision has remained controversial in the town and Coun Elliott, speaking at a full meeting of Rotherham Council, insisted the annual accounts demonstrated the money was available to put it into full time service.

He told the meeting: “What we have to remember is that we have had eight consecutive years of surpluses.”

Coun Alan Atkin, who sits on South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, said that some of the surpluses were small when set against the authority’s annual budget and that the body was preparing for future years when it was predicted there would be a financial shortfall.

Crewing the fire engine at night would involve recruiting new staff, he said, who would then have to be made redundant when the service’s finances worsened, with predicted spending gaps of £2m each year after the 2019/20 financial year.

The entire service is also in the process of a review to establish where the biggest risks exist and how the service should be structured to respond to that.

The review is called an integrated risk management programme, which all brigades are required to carry out periodically.

South Yorkshire’s is taking place because the service is having to scrap a working practice at four stations which sees firefighters stay available for extended periods, something which has been ruled illegal under workplace law.

The cost of providing similar cover with conventional working patterns will be around £1.4m a year and the service is reviewing all its operational needs before moving forwards with the change.