Up to 80 firefighters jobs face redundancy ‘overnight’ if fire chiefs fail to find £3million in cuts

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Fire chiefs have warned they could be forced to make up to 80 firefighters redundant ‘overnight’ if they cannot make cuts worth more than £3million.

 Fire chiefs have warned they could be forced to make up to 80 firefighters redundant ‘overnight’ if they cannot make cuts worth more than £3million.

But bosses have also tried to provide reassurances that saving plans will not compromise safety – either of the public or of emergency services staff.

The plans, which have been formally unveiled today (Tuesday, February 12) and will be voted on next week, are set to see an overhaul of staffing across Tyne and Wear and an increase in the time it takes crews to reach fires.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther has insisted the proposals are needed to balance the books without having to dip into the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority’s savings.

He said: “If we don’t manage that process as we are now, avoiding redundancies through our retirement profile, then what would happen instead if we artificially inflate the revenue budget with capital reserves is there will be a point, at some point in the future, let’s pick April 2022, where we would, overnight, have to make 80 firefighters redundant.

“I will not do that as chief fire officer.

“My job is to provide value for money for the public purse and I need to create a sustainable fire and rescue service, not only for now but also for the future.”

The fire authority first announced plans to try and slash £3.3million from its budget over three years in November, before going out to a 12-week consultation.

The final proposals, which have been amended slightly following suggestions from staff, are due to be voted on by the fire authority on Monday (February 18).

As well as changes to shifts and the way crews and equipment are distributed across Tyne and Wear, the plans would see 82 posts cut from the brigade – although 12 new roles would also be created.

Managers have insisted throughout the consultation process they do not expect to have to make any redundancies to cut these jobs.

Assistant Chief Officer Alan Robson said the brigade’s priority remained ‘saving people’s lives’

He added: “At the beginning of this review there were 24 fire engines which are available within Tyne and Wear, as well as a range of special appliances.

“We’ve tried to protect those 24 fire engines as much as we can, so at the end of the review there will still be 24 fire engines available, they will just be crewed in a slightly different way.

“The times that they’re available in terms of the crewing will be slightly different, but we will still have a large number of the current level of firefighters available at the end.

“At the minutes there’s 100 firefighters available to us on a daily basis and there will be 96 available to us at the end.”

Cuts plans

Fire chiefs hope to save £3.322million over the course of 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/21 with three core proposals the fire authority will be asked to vote on.

They are:

Proposal One – An overhaul of how crews are distributed across Tyne and Wear.

This could see a fire engine and targeted response vehicle (TGV) moved from Washington to Sunderland Central and from Gosforth to Newcastle Central.

It could also see heavy rescue units move from Hebburn to South Shields and, following suggestions raised during public consultation, from Newcastle Central to Washington.

This is expected to save £717,000.

Proposal Two – Switch to a part time ‘on-call duty system’ at Wallsend, Hebburn and Farringdon.

This is expected to save £1.62million.

Proposal Three – Change shift timings so crews change over at 9am and 5pm.

This is expected to save £985,000.

PICS:

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther (right) and Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Robson

Tyne & Wear Fire HQ, Washington

Fire Cuts Q&A With Assistant Chief Fire Officer Alan Robson

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther On Fire Cuts And Safety Since 2010

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service