'Lives at risk' under Welsh fire service reforms

Welsh firefighters Image copyright North Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption Frontline firefighting could suffer if it costs more to run fire authorities, councillors claim

Lives could be put at risk by plans to reform the way the three fire and rescue authorities in Wales are run, councillors have claimed.

The authorities are currently made up of nominated local councillors.

But Welsh ministers say having fewer members - who should all hold cabinet rank - would improve governance.

Members of the South Wales authority claimed their cost could soar from £63,000 a year to £300,000, with a "devastating impact" on firefighting.

The Labour Welsh Government wants to keep the existing regional services covering North Wales, South Wales, and Mid and West Wales.

But it wants to cut the number of councillors sitting on the authorities to ensure they are governed in a "modern, accountable and sustainable way".

Councils would also be urged to nominate cabinet members rather than backbenchers so authorities had management expertise to make decisions and challenge senior officers.

Steve Bradwick, a Rhondda Cynon Taff councillor who sits on the South Wales fire authority, claimed this was "very insulting and derogatory" to the current membership "doing their best to serve their communities".

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he also claimed the costs of running fire authorities would increase, as cabinet members were entitled to higher pay for additional duties.

Another member, Cardiff councillor Joel Williams, wondered where the extra money would be found.

"If the proposals went ahead they would have a devastating impact on frontline services, the employment of our firefighters, and that as a consequence will put lives at risk," he said.

The Welsh Government said there had been "significant public consultation" on the proposals, including direct meetings with senior fire officials and authority chairmen.

"We will reflect on the consultation responses and we are clear we would never take any action to undermine fire and rescue standards," a spokesperson said.

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