Fire cuts hit Shropshire

An almost 28 per cent the Government spending cut in the county’s fire and rescue service grant over the next four years is “very worrying” for Shropshire’s future, warned the Chair of the Shropshire and Wrekin fire authority.

Councillor Stuart West said the Government’s newly announced grant reductions were “a great disappointment” and worse than expected.

But he vowed that the fire and rescue service across Shropshire, Telford and the Wrekin would be protected for the next two years due to the astute financial planning of senior fire officers who have, with staff, developed plans to meet the financial challenges ahead.

“The future however, beyond 2012, does not look good,” he told members of the Shropshire & Wrekin Fire Authority at the Fire Authority meeting on December 15th.

“Despite my disappointment, I remain confident and optimistic that for the immediate two year period we will still maintain all our fire stations that are the heart of so many communities around Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.”

The Authority would continue to lobby Government to get a fairer deal for Shropshire which, as a rural county, had suffered one of the largest percentage reductions of all UK Fire Authorities, despite already being one of the lowest funded services in the country.

The risk from Shropshire’s sparse and rural nature must be conveyed to the Government, he stressed.

“I must express serious concerns for service levels in the medium term if civil servants continue to underestimate the risk our communities face from fire and other emergencies and the cost of delivering emergency services in Shropshire and Telford and the Wrekin,” warned the chair of the Fire Authority.

“We live and work in one of the nation’s most sparsely populated areas but an area nevertheless where our communities deserve an equitable level of service and emergency response.

“All of us must now work hard to explain our situation to Government so that the future funding formula is fair for the people of Shropshire.”

Local Government Minister Eric Pickles cut the Government grant of £8million – a third of Shropshire’s fire and rescue service budget - by 9.5% from next April and 3.4% the following year. With inflation and in real terms, this is a 19% cut in Government grant. The following two years are estimated to take a further 15% from the Grant (20% in real terms)

Plans to reduce the current £21 million budget include a pay freeze, a 25% reduction in Senior Fire Commanders, 10% reduction in firefighters and a 20% cut in support staff.

Difficult decisions already taken did stand the brigade in good stead to prepare for even further cuts in the future, although they would not be easy, warned Councillor West.

“This country is facing the biggest public finance deficit in modern times and all the public services must play their part in helping to reduce that financial burden. The fire service is no exception,” he said.

21st December, 2010