Fire service cuts: Consultation extended on cost-cutting plans which could see stations downgraded
Fire chiefs have agreed to extend a public consultation on more than Â£3 million of proposed cuts.
A 10-week survey on the plans, which would see widespread changes for firefighters across Tyne and Wear, was due to finish on January 14.
But following pressure from unions and the public, bosses have now agreed to extend it by a further two weeks.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority (TWFRA) vice chairman and Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes claimed government “chaos” had presented an opportunity for an extension after ministers failed to confirm how much cash will be available for firefighters next year.
He told today’s fire authority meeting: “We had hoped to know where we are financially last week, when we were due to get the [government’s] financial settlement.
“We know why we haven’t got it, which is because the government is in chaos, so we have a period of uncertainty about the future.”
He added: “If we extend the consultation period we also ask people who might be interested in submitting a response to not hold off.
“The sooner we get those in, the more attention we can give them and the better informed we will be when we come to the final decision making process.”
From next year, TWFRA expects it will have lost almost a fifth of its budget – £11.3 million – since 2010.
And by 2021/22, it is predicting a gap in its finances of up to £3.6 million.
The three proposals it is currently consulting on could save about £3.3 million if all the suggested measures we implemented.
Plans on the table include:
Moving a fire engine from Washington Community Fire Station to Sunderland Central Community Fire Station
Switching to part-time staffing at Hebburn Community Fire Station, with evening cover provided from South Shields
One fire engine at Farringdon Community Fire Station becoming part-time
This could also see the loss of up to 70 jobs, but the authority has insisted this is not expected to require redundancies.
However, following the decision to extend the consultation, authority members were also warned the extra work could jeopardise the current timetable, which expects a final decision in February.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Robson said: “This puts pressure on the closing date for the analysis of the consultation and time for feedback to the fire authority.
“That would potentially delay reporting to the March authority meeting, if that analysis can’t be done in time.”
Officers have also previously warned delays in implementing the cost-cutting plans could cost fire chiefs up to £60,000 a month.
But the decision was welcomed by the Fire Brigades Union.
Bridage secretary Russ King said: “We welcome the extension of the consultation period for the further two weeks.
“We asked from the start about this being extended to take into account Christmas and we’re pleased the fire authority has started to listen to the FBU and its members.”
PICS: Tyne and Wear Fire HQ, in Washington and union man Russ King
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service