Cuts 'risk fire service response' in south Wales area

A fire engine (generic)
Image caption The number of fire engines would have to be reduced after two years, said Mr Marles

Budget cuts are likely to lead to fewer firefighters, engines and stations in years to come, a chief officer says.

Andy Marles, of South Wales Fire Service, said slower 999 response times were likely within three or four years of next month's UK spending review.

"It will get extremely difficult," Mr Marles told BBC Radio Wales.

The Welsh Assembly Government said that it was consulting with frontline workers to protect essential public services.

Mr Marles explained that as 82% of the fire service's £70m budget went on staffing costs, any significant reduction in budget would mean reducing the workforce.

He said that in the event of cuts amounting to 3% year-on-year, the service would probably be able to manage for the first and second years by being "a bit smarter" in some of its processes and procedures.

"But ultimately," he added, "if this goes on into the third, fourth, fifth year, it'll be very, very difficult to maintain the number of fire engines and the resource and the community safety activity that we undertake now.

"If the cuts are 25%, it will be impossible to maintain the service we do today in the third, fourth, year from now."

Mr Marles said the difference would not be dramatic in terms of how that would affect the service offered to someone dialling 999.

"We'll still have fire engines," he said. "We're not going to take all our fire engines out of the system. But there might be less fire engines.

"We might be able to put one station where two exist now to be able to maintain the service to the public, but it may mean that attendance times are increased slightly.

"But it will mean an increase, and every time we talk about changing fire stations, inevitably the public get quite upset about that and understandably so.

"They expect the response they get now, which is minutes to house fires for the majority of our area."

'Profoundly important'

The Welsh Assembly Government said it had been "pushing the UK Government hard" to recognise the vital importance of protecting essential front line services ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October.

"We have made prudent assumptions in starting to prepare next year's draft budget, but it would be inappropriate to speculate on any impact the UK government's review may have on public services in Wales," it said in a statement.

The outcome of the review would be profoundly important for Wales, it added.

"We are continuing to consult closely, openly and seriously with frontline workers and engaging with communities the length and breadth of Wales to ensure we work together to protect essential public services" said the statement.

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