Doncaster councillors clash in debate surrounding plans to cut 84 South Yorkshire firefighters

Councillors have clashed over a motion to oppose plans to cut the number of firefighters across South Yorkshire.

By George Torr
Monday, 29 July, 2019, 14:59
Firefighters rally outside Sheffield Town Hall. Picture Scott Merrylees

Thorne firefighter and Fire Brigades Union Yorkshire & Humberside chair Neil Carbutt addressed councillors on the proposals to slash the number of firefighters by 84 - leaving one less crew member per fire engine.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue authority has said they would rather ‘not make any changes at all’ against a blackhole of around £4 million.

A motion condemning the proposals, put forward by Labour Balby South Coun John Healy, said the ‘cuts have gone too far’ and laid the blame ‘directly at the feet of the Conservative Government’.

He called on the fire authority to explore dipping into their £23 million reserve pot.

Conisbrough Labour Coun Lani-Mae Ball, who seconded the motion, said: “We all know that Tory MPs are cowards but this is just another level of hiding away from their responsibilities and disguising their fanatical and unjustified cuts.

“The Tory government has a long history of moving the responsibility of vital services from national level to local level with no funding or resources to support the move.

“This sets them up to fail with no thought for the workers, service users or our communities and the fire service is no different to others that are relentlessly belittled and cut by the Tory government.”

But the condemnation of the Conservatives prompted a prickly response from opposition councillors.

Tory Bessacarr Coun Nick Allen said he was ‘pleased’ the motion was brought forward which everyone could agree on but said some of the comments from Labour members during the debate were ‘partizan, spiteful drivel’.

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He said: “(Labour members) are living in an alternative universe, with a separate economy that didn’t collapse which led to us having to imposing austerity.”

Conservative Coun Cynthia Ransome, who sits on the SYF&R scrutiny board in Barnsley, said: “Council tax from ratepayers to the fire service has gone up year on year, monies spent on overtime for officers were approved by Labour members, an expensive court case against the FBU was also approved by all Labour members.

“I do support the views of the FBU, however myself and the union representatives were told by the chief executive of Barnsley Council we were barred from having any meetings.

“I agree it’s important to work collectively with the FBU who have acted with dignity. However, over the past three years, my sense of collaborative working has not been shared by my Labour colleagues.”

The amended motion presented by Labour Town ward Coun Tosh McDonald was passed which added a reference to Fire minister Nick Hurd calling on fire authorities to use their reserves in 2017.

He said: “It’s good after Grenfell that we’re investing in the first line of defence in protection for our residents with sprinklers and ensuring we have the right kind of cladding on there.

“But what’s the point in doing that at the first line of defence when if we’re going to be cutting the last line of defence.

“We do sometimes need to look at ourselves as Labour councillors and party members - remember, we weren’t that good in government because the FBU actually left the party as an affiliated union because of the way they were treated by a Labour government.

“We need everyone to support our fire service and for them to get the funding they need and if we have to dip into our reserves then it is shame on national government for not giving us the resources.”