Leicestershire’s fire service is facing ‘unprecedented’ budget cuts that will put the public at risk, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said.
The county’s Combined Fire Authority (CFA) have published proposals to close Central and Kibworth fire stations, remove 11 fire engines, and cut 194 frontline firefighter jobs out of a workforce of 650. These cuts would be the biggest ever in the history of the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS).
Some fire engines would also be replaced by smaller Tactical Response Vehicles (TRVs), which carry minimal equipment and are crewed by two firefighters.
Gavin Lynch, chair of the FBU in Leicestershire, said: “There is no doubt that cuts like these will have a huge impact on the safety of the public. Firefighters will take longer to get to emergencies and may not have all the equipment necessary to carry out a rescue. In an emergency, every minute counts. Lives will be lost if firefighters have to wait around for a second or third fire engine to arrive with the correct equipment. These proposals are not fit for purpose.
“These fresh cuts come on the back of previous funding reductions made last April. At this point it feels like our vital, life-saving public service has not only been cut to the bone, but sawed off without anaesthetic.”
Leicestershire’s ex-Chief Fire Officer Dave Webb said of the previous round of cuts in September 2014: “The cuts.…are challenging for firefighters because they have to cope with fewer people potentially on fire engines. Members of the public would probably notice the difference if they called the fire service. Probably not with the first fire engine arriving but certainly the second, in some areas, it would be slower than it currently is.”
Now that the CFA have proposed even more radical and devastating cuts its chair Nick Rushton has somehow committed the service to a ‘guaranteed level of (fire) cover’ even though the most recent round of cuts could see Leicestershire’s fire cover cut by a third.
Gavin Lynch said: “To promise the same level of fire cover when you’re about to cut the service by a third is beyond disingenuous. One of the alternatives to the frontline cuts that the FBU have suggested is for the service to sell its £11m half empty headquarters and move staff to the unused areas of office space at Central fire station. This move would save 11 fire engines from the axe and keep frontline services running.”
To add insult to injury the FBU in Leicestershire, along with a number of fire authority members, were not informed of the proposals which were revealed to them by journalists. This comes after a cross-party letter was signed by all Leicestershire MPs in February that called for the CFA and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service to work closely with the FBU stating that the union’s ‘experience in frontline and support services, it would be very helpful if they were to be given the opportunity to explore efficiency savings.’
Gavin Lynch added: “It is most disappointing that managers at LFRS have ignored the wishes of democratically elected MPs. We understand the financial position that the fire service finds itself in, and we are committed to working with them to find viable options that do not leave the public worse off and at risk.”