Merseyside fire crews have branded the latest round of cuts planned for the local fire service as irresponsible and masochistic. It accused senior managers of testing the limits of health and safety and significantly cutting the number of firefighters.
The Fire Brigades Union says Merseyside fire service has already made more cuts to frontline services than any other fire service in the UK. While only 3% of ‘efficiency savings’ were demanded by Government, managers on Merseyside forced through cuts of more than 15%.
The figures come from details in an Audit Commission report published before Xmas which said fire services in England had made “efficiency savings” – cuts - of £185 million in four years. Four fire authorities, one of them Merseyside, accounted for more than £62.5 million of that figure, half the total.
According to the Governments own Audit Commission’s official report ‘Rising to the Challenge’, Merseyside made cuts of at least £23.125m over 4 years, well in excess of the £3.12 million in savings they were expected to make. It means senior managers, backed by willing councillors, have already made £20 million more cuts than the needed to and more than the £5 million Merseyside bosses say they now need to save.
Les Skarratts, Merseyside FBU brigade secretary said: “Merseyside are top of the cuts league, not something we should be proud of. We’re also top of the league for senior managers’ pay, while the number they manage has fallen sharply.
“The fire authority is now looking at more cuts of £5.3 million. They are already testing the frontiers of health and safety and significantly reduced the numbers of fire crews.
“This latest round of cuts is masochistic and irresponsible. Councillors appear happy to stand back and see the chief officer make a name for himself as the king of cuts, with yet another wielding of the axe.
“There is nothing left to cut. Councillors need to take responsibility rather than shirking it and throw these latest plans in the dustbin.”
Key parts of the Audit Commission
Summary – ‘fire services have achieved £185M in annual efficiency savings since 2004’/ ‘4 fire services account for nearly half of all savings achieved’ (‘this equates to 9 per cent of total expenditure in 2007/08 and is much higher than the original target of £105m annually recurring savings from 2005/06 to 2007/08’ para 26)
The Efficiency Challenge – para 32 ‘while overall efficiency savings targets have been exceeded, just 4 fire services accounting for around a third of expenditure, have contributed nearly half of the savings achieved to date. 5 fire services (GMC, IoW, M’side, Northumberland and Cleveland) have reported efficiency savings equivalent to more than 15 % of their total expenditure in 2003/04.’
Para 45 ‘the met with the highest level of savings was Merseyside..’