Councillors are to be asked to approve the proposed cuts to the fire service in Northumberland, which will see the closure of one fire station and changes to the appliances at a number of others.
Following a public consultation, a report to next Thursday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s communities and local services scrutiny committee explains that members ‘are requested to approve the changes as outlined in the consultation document’. The final decision is expected to be made by the cabinet on Monday, March 21.
This means signing off on the closure of Haydon Bridge Fire Station, the removal of the retained appliance at West Hartford Fire Station in Cramlington and replacing the retained fire engines at Alnwick (second appliance), Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler with smaller vehicles.
The proposals, required because Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has to save £500,000 in 2016/17 – which was signed off by the full council as part of its budget-setting process – have proved very controversial, but the service claims it faces a ‘no-win scenario of cuts’.
The report explains: ‘The authority consultation is based on a set of proposals that are deemed essential to ensure the authority can deliver a fit-for-purpose fire and rescue service and a balanced budget against the backdrop of ongoing significant Government-imposed budget cuts’.
It adds: ‘The authority recognises the difficult nature of this decision and reaffirms the commitment of the service to implement additional community safety activity where response changes may be implemented and conduct an effective HR process working with ‘at-risk’ affected staff and trade unions. The service will continue to monitor the impact of the proposed changes’.
Regarding the consultation responses, it states: ‘The greatest levels of concern have been expressed in response to the consultation where services are proposed to be withdrawn, namely in Haydon Bridge (proposed closure of the one retained appliance Community Fire Station) and Cramlington (proposed removal of the retained appliance from West Hartford Community Fire Station).
‘The response in communities where the service is proposing change to flexible staffing models/smaller fire appliances (Ponteland, Alnwick second appliance, Wooler, Seahouses) has been mixed, ranging from full support to concerns being raised. Contrasting responses from within communities and local parish/town councils have also been noted’.
A number of petitions were also submitted, including one with more than 8,000 signatures from residents across the county organised by the Fire Brigades Union and one with 2,700 signatures from Haydon Bridge and surrounding communities.