Another £5 million in funding cuts for South Yorkshire’s fire service

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SOUTH Yorkshire’s fire service faces funding cuts of almost £5 million over the next two years.

Following the government’s announcement on local authority funding in December, the service now calculates they will lose 8.7 per cent (£2.8m) of their grant in 2013/14 and face a further cut of seven per cent (£2.1m) in 2014/15.

But the settlement may have been worse if not for a 12-month national campaign led by Rotherham MP John Healey.

In 2011 and 2012, Metropolitan fire areas including South Yorkshire, suffered some of the most heavily slashed budgets nationally. Areas hit most badly were among the poorest, urban areas with the highest number and biggest risk of fires.

The Coalition Government cut Met area fire funding by an average of more than 12 per cent, nearly twice the rest of the country. South Yorkshire’s grant has been slashed by £8m in the last two years and the service has had to cut one in seven full-time firefighters.

Meanwhile richer, rural counties – including Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset – have seen their funding increased.

MPs and Met chiefs warned that if the cuts followed the same pattern up to 2015 lives would be put at risk and hundreds more firefighters would lose their jobs.

Mr Healey said: “The situation we faced in the first two years was unfair, unequal and unjustifiable.

“While some authorities were wondering how to spend the extra cash they had, the six Metropolitan areas were working out how to cut 1,258 full-time firefighters, 69 retained firefighters and more than 550 other staff.

“A cut of nearly £5m over the next two years is nothing to celebrate and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service will be forced to make some difficult decisions.

“But the Government have responded to our cross-party cross-area campaign and, although they remain intent on making big cuts to fire services, the axe has been brought down evenly in all areas over the next two years.”

Mr Healey has chaired briefings for MPs, spoken in Parliamentary debates and led meetings between fire chiefs, MPs and ministers.

In September he warned ministers that he was giving a “final warning” and that continuing to hit Met areas with the deepest cuts would mean “more people will die.”

MPs and fire chiefs have been calling for any further cuts to be a flat-rate across the country, as with the police.

Otherwise the Mets predicted they would have to shed 1,000 firefighters, 150 extra staff and another 40 fire engines.

Met chiefs feared the cut to 2015 could be as much as 27 per cent, or £8.1m in South Yorkshire.