Fire crews cut to save £5m
SCORES of firefighters are set to be axed under plans to save £5 million over the next four years.
But Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer insists the cuts will not put the public’s safety at risk, and instead will lead to more fire stations and improved response times.
The shake-up includes plans to build a new fire station at Alsager and talks have already taken place with Cheshire East Council over a potential site.
The brigade, which currently has 689 firefighters, has to trim its costs to cope with Government funding cuts.
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It has a budget of £44.1 million this year, £43.2m next year and £42.6m by 2016.
Of its budget, 76 per cent is made up of employee costs, of which 61 per cent is down to firefighters’ salaries. Cutting 28 firefighters will save £1 million. The number of firefighters set to go has not been revealed, but chief officer Paul Hancock said they were not looking at compulsory redundancies at the time-being.
He said: “This is about continuous improvement and making sure we have the right resources in the right place to deliver a professional, safe and effective service.
“We have some key financial drivers with the recession but it’s not necessarily the main driver behind these proposals, and some would have been put in place regardless.
“Our current prediction is based on making £5 million worth of savings over the next four years and the model we are going forward with is more fire stations and improving cover across the whole of Cheshire, while having different duty systems at a number of existing stations.”
A three-month public consultation on the changes is set to start on Monday, and the decisions are expected to be signed off in February. Any changes would not be introduced until 2014.
Across the whole of the county, the number of fire stations would increase from 24 to 29.
The number of fire engines would remain at 32 with seven targeted response vehicles, but they will be spread across the county and there will be fewer firefighters in stations.
In Cheshire East, Congleton would keep one fire engine, but its second appliance would be sent to the new part-time station at Alsager. Sandbach will keep its fire engine but Crewe could lose its second engine.
Dave Williams, secretary at Cheshire Fire Brigades Union, said: “I don’t think £5 million worth of cuts can be seen as good news and the actual Government grant settlement won’t be known until December, so it could be more.
“Our immediate concern is that they are looking at reducing the number of firefighters over the next four years, starting with a minimum of 36.
“The fire service has around 15 to 20 per cent in reserves against a Government recommendation