Fire engines plan scrapped as service braces itself for major cost savings

Dr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings

New fire engines expected to provide extra protection in Sheffield and Doncaster are now never likely to materialise as the South Yorkshire service braces itself for more than £4m in cost savings, with bosses told collaboration work with police should now step up to a “more urgent pace”.

South Yorkshire Fire Authority, the body made up largely of councillors which controls the service, is getting to grips with the prospect of large bills they could not foresee only a year ago – with a legal ruling forcing them to abandon a new shift pattern for some staff which had been introduced to save £1.4m a year and an additional pension bill in excess of £2m a year in future.

Next year’s spending is on course to balance as expected but in future years it is predicted savings of more than £4m will be needed, though figures can only be estimates at this stage because there is no guidance about how much cash the Government will put in or will allow the authority to raise from Council Tax bills.

However, plans to introduce new fire trucks in Sheffield and Doncaster – providing additional day time cover when demand is highest – have now been put on hold, with an acceptance from within the service they are never likely be provided because of the new cost constraints.

Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney told a meeting of the Fire Authority: “The financial situation has worsened to the extent it now is.

“Our position is that proposals for the fifth and sixth day crewed pumps are now on hold. Being able to return to those proposals seems to be an extremely unlikely eventuality,” he said.

He was also questioned about the prospect of replacing a fire engine previously lost to cost-cutting in Rotherham and said: “We would hesitate to say never, but we are looking at a worse service than we are providing today.

“We don’t see re-instating services at any time in the future,” he said.

Although no job losses are proposed at present, the service is looking at making efficiencies elsewhere, through collaborations with other brigades and South Yorkshire Police.

The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, who sits on the authority, said there would be a need for savings to be made with “greater precision” than options currently outlined to the authority and said there was a “need for collaborations between police and fire to go at a faster, deeper, more urgent pace than we have so far.”

“We have had the easy bits, we are in the area where we have to look at harder choices if we are going to come through the very difficult time we are heading for.

“It is about our organisations being more effective and we can do that better together. There are efficiencies to make and if we don’t make them it may be damaging to our services,” he said.

The fire service currently has a large stockpile of cash reserves but intends to spend the bulk of that replacing fire vehicles and improving buildings to make them more efficient.

The two services now have a current ‘estates’ department to look at their overall portfolio of buildings and work is being done there to try to find ways of cutting energy costs, either be renegotiating deals or working to make buildings more energy efficient so bills go down.

Firefighters’ kit is currently leased from a supplier and it is planned to buy that equipment – which still has a serviceable lifespan – to cut costs before buying new equipment later.

The aim is to encourage more suppliers to become involved in developing new options, so when it is bought the equipment will feature cutting edge design while also being cost effective due to competition.