Approval has been given today for public consultation to take place on proposed changes to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.
The Service has to save £500,000 in 2016/17, on top of the £1.5m already cut over the last two years, as a result of reductions in the council’s budget by central Government.
The cuts to the fire and rescue service were agreed by Council members as part of the overall Council budget in February 2015.
Northumberland County Council’s cabinet meeting gave the go-head to begin a 12-week period of consultation on the proposals; beginning on Monday 23 November 2015 and finishing on Monday, February 15.
Dave Ledger, chair of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Authority and deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power, the fire and rescue service in Northumberland alone has had its budget cut by £3m, now we have to save a further half a million. This is not something we want to do, we simply have no choice.
“We know incidents have reduced significantly over the last ten years and thankfully people are safer than ever before. However we still have a responsibility to provide a service according to the risk and to work with residents and businesses to prevent fires from happening in the first place.
“We also need to be confident we can respond to any large scale incident or emergency; such as the floods, and dealing with road traffic collisions continues to be a large part of our emergency response service.
“These Government cuts are making this even harder to do. We simply cannot keep on cutting in this way. If anyone has any alternative suggestions as to how these savings can be made from the fire and rescue service we will welcome them as part of the consultation process.
“We have a legal duty to provide a service, but it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain, and that’s before we hear later this month how much more we will have to save in the Chancellor’s spending review.”
Alex Bennett, chief fire officer for Northumberland Fire and Rescue, said: “We know that people will be concerned about any proposals to change their fire and rescue service and that demonstrates the huge respect people have for the service and the contribution we make to communities.
“I would like to reassure people that the safety of the public and our firefighters is our number one priority.
“In developing these proposals we’ve carried out detailed analysis and used our professional expertise as firefighters. Should the proposed changes be approved we will continue to have 21 emergency response vehicles across the county, providing a county-wide response and, through the introduction of smaller fire appliances, in some areas we will be able to increase the cover we provide.
“We have sought to make the required savings in a way which has the least impact on our communities. We have looked in detail at incidents our firefighters have attended and the risks; such as flooding and the east coast rail line, as well as the cover provided by our fire stations.
“We have also analysed the location of incidents - many of our incidents are around the main roads - and which firefighters and stations have attended them; this is to ensure there is effective cover across the whole of the county.
“We have already reduced our whole time firefighting resource, our management and back office function so the proposed changes are as a result of a review of our retained (on-call) firefighting service.
“As part of the consultation we will be holding public meetings where people can find out more about the proposals and ask questions. We will also be attending Area Committees in January. We welcome the opportunity to talk to people about the proposals and would encourage people to take part in the consultation. “
The areas being consulted on are:
Removing the retained (on-call) fire appliance from West Hartford Community Fire Station. The station will still have two fire appliances staffed round the clock. The retained fire appliance only attended 8.4% of incidents within the last five years. There is also cover from Pegswood Community Fire Station.
Replacing the second retained (on-call) fire appliance at Alnwick Community Fire Station and the retained (on-call) fire appliances at Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler Community Fire Stations with smaller fire appliances. Alnwick will continue to have a retained (on-call) appliance as well as a smaller fire appliance. The smaller appliances can attend all of the incidents the larger traditional fire appliances can attend. With the introduction of flexible staffing arrangements the appliances could respond to certain incidents staffed by less than four firefighters; as a result it will increase the amount of times they are available and enhance the emergency response cover. The smaller appliances are also much more cost effective to lease and run than larger traditional fire appliances.
Closing Haydon Bridge Fire Station with cover to be provided by Hexham, Haltwhistle and Allendale Fire Stations. Over the last five years there were only 96 incidents in Haydon Bridge and over half (57%) of these incidents were small fires or false alarms. A third of incidents (33%) within the Haydon Bridge area were attended by surrounding stations.
More joint working with other Fire and Rescue Services and agencies to reduce costs.
There will be no changes to Pegswood, Hexham, Berwick, Amble, Belford, Bellingham, Haltwhistle, Prudhoe, Rothbury and Holy island.
Information about how people can take part in the consultation will be on Northumberland County Council’s website at www.northumberland.gov.uk from Monday, November 23.