Despite a range of cuts and other savings, including cutting the number of firefighters in some crews, senior officers have said they face a ‘challenge’ to address a growing budget gap.
Speaking at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority annual meeting, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Chris Lowther said cuts meant neighbouring fire authorities would have to ‘rely’ on each other to help with major incidents.
“I can say the public of Tyne and Wear are safe,” he said.
“But this is why we have to do the hard financial management now, because we’re not at that stage [where safety is compromised], but it could happen.”
Cuts and other savings meant Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service finished the last financial year [2017/18] about £1.3m under budget.
But this year the service expects to have to dip into its cash reserves to the tune of £700,000 to be able to balance the books.
Current estimates put the budget gap at £3.6m by 2021/2022.
In May, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service had to call on County Durham and Darlington Fire and rescue Service and Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service for help dealing with the Alex Smiles depot fire, in Sunderland.
After breaking out on May 14, it was wasn’t until June 7 it was confirmed to have been extinguished – 24 days later.
Newcastle City Council’s Coun Hazel Stephenson said: “This could be anywhere in our area and we’re having to rely on other partners.
“But God forbid something would happen in another area at the same time.
“It took a long time to extinguish and I think this highlights the excellent work we’re doing and gets the message out that if others have had recommendations [for service improvements] they should be following them.”
CFO Lowther also told the meeting he had had discussions with the home office about having more resources allocated to Tyne and Wear to take account of its comparatively greater risk of fires.
He said: “We have significant risk issues in Tyne and Wear and the resources we receive must take account of that.
“It is stark how much levels of demand are linked to levels of deprivation.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service