England

Devon and Somerset Fire Service 'should not use reserves to avoid cuts'

  • 30 May 2013
  • From the section England
Cuts protest at Devon and Somerset Fire Authority
Image caption Firefighters held a protest at the service's headquarters in Exeter

Devon and Somerset's fire service should not use its cash reserves to deal with £5.5m in cuts planned over two years, managers have said.

The service had £8.9m in reserves, a meeting of the Devon and Somerset Fire Authority heard.

The meeting was debating how to deal with 17.6% of cuts in income.

Cuts critics said reserves could help alleviate problems. Chief fire officer Lee Howell said using reserves would only provide a short-term solution.

'Longer response times'

The authority is having to deal with its grants being reduced by 10.3%, or £3.4m, for 2013, with a further 7.3% drop, £2.1m, due in 2014.

Proposed cost-cutting measures to deal with the loss included crewing of some engines being cut from full-time to on-call.

Other proposals included implementing changes in how the service responds to automatic fire alarms, reducing middle and senior managers and reducing support staff by at least 5% by not renewing some contracts.

Firefighters protested at the meeting at the service's headquarters in Exeter and other protesters said they did not understand why reserves could not be used.

Protester Susie Colley said: "If they have to spend some at the moment to ensure we're all safe in our cars and homes, then so be it.

"I can't understand how they can cut as much they want to with that amount of money in the bank."

Bob Walker, of the Fire Brigades Union, said members were concerned lives could be put at risk if any cuts were implemented.

He said: "If you remove the pumps, there will not be the response there currently is, which means longer response times and more danger to the public and firefighters.

"We are asking that different proposals and a different approach are taken to see how we can make savings."

He said "reserves could and perhaps should be used".

But he added: "But the problem with reserves is that once it's gone, it's gone."

Chief officer Howell said the service was trying to deal with "a reduction in our income".

He said: "[Using reserves] is an option, so we could use part of that. But it would only bide us over for a short amount of time.

"The changes we're proposing are a long-term solution."

Fire chiefs added that lives would not be put at risk.

A final decision on the proposed cuts is due on 10 July.

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