Calls to protect South Tyneside's fire service to ensure people are kept safe

South Tyneside Council leaders are set to write to Central Government to seek urgent financial support to protect Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS).
File image of a firefighter.File image of a firefighter.
File image of a firefighter.

Councillor Wilf Flynn, a member of the region’s Fire Authority, raised the motion at the latest full meeting of South Tyneside Council, citing increased financial demands and inflationary pressures on the organisation.

The Labour councillor said the fire and rescue sector could not resolve current difficulties without national Government support.

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The motion will see council leader, councillor Tracey Dixon, in conjunction with all Tyne and Wear council leaders, write to the appropriate Government minister to seek financial support as a “matter of urgency”.

The motion said: “Council is concerned that, without extra support, the Fire Authority may have to once again balance the books by cutting more essential services to our vulnerable residents, including those in South Tyneside, Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle [and] North Tyneside.

“Council notes that, over the last decade or so, the TWFRS have prioritised every possible option to achieve greater efficiency and minimise the need to cut budgets for essential services.

“It is clearly not realistic to expect financial pressures of this magnitude to be addressed through further efficiencies.”

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Cllr Wilf Flynn said the National Fire Chiefs Council had “failed on a number of occasions to get the message over to Government ministers and civil servants of the financial state of fire services around the country”.

In Tyne and Wear, he explained, the situation includes the Fire Authority only being able to finance an inflationary pay rise of up to 3% for firefighters and control room staff with anything over that “leading to cuts”.

He noted the issue was pressing and referenced a recent move by the Fire Brigades Union to reject a 5% pay rise offer for fire and rescue services nationally, with a ballot on strike action planned to be held.

The councillor said Central Government had not intervened to provide financial support to help fire and rescue services across the country cover staff pay rise costs, but had done so for police forces.

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Councillors also heard TWFRS had received a request from the Home Office about the use of the Armed Forces to take on the role of firefighters during any strike action – but this was rejected as the fire service were expected to fund employee costs.

Cllr Flynn told the meeting: “The crux of the resolution is we’re asking the leaders of Tyne and Wear to come together to contact the Government and go for a Government-funded pay rise because anything else will lead to cuts in the services.”

The councillor added that fire services only receive finance from Central Government funding and a council tax precept and that “council tax is already stretched and cannot afford to take on Tyne and Wear’s increased costs”.

Following debate, the motion won unanimous support from borough councillors.

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The South Tyneside Council motion follows a similar motion which was agreed by Sunderland City Council on Wednesday, November 17, 2022.

Chris Lowther, Tyne and Wear chief fire officer, speaking earlier this month, said the future of the fire service is in a “strong position” due to its financial management over recent years.

However he warned, like most public sector organisations, they are set to face an “oncoming storm”.