Doncaster councillors criticise brigade chiefs' plans to cut number of South Yorkshire firefighters

Doncaster councillors made their disapproval known to brigade chiefs who are proposing to cut 84 firefighters.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 12:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 7:11 pm
Councillors quiz fire chiefs over proposed reductions in front line staffing. Picture: George Torr/LDRS

Members of the scrutiny committee quizzed South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue deputy chief fire officer Alex Johnson and finance boss Stewart Booth.

Both stressed to members that 81 per cent of their £53 million budget is spent on staff and they would ‘rather not make any changes’ at all to address a funding gap.

The reductions in frontline firefighters mean crews would have four members per engine - down from five.

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Ms Johnson said the reductions would be brought about through ‘natural wastage’ such as retirement and said 17 fire authorities ‘already use four-man crews’ in each appliance.

But Town ward Coun Tosh McDonald “You’ve said that 17 fire authorities use a four-man crew, but with that maths that’s out of 48 which means that 31 don’t do this.

“Maybe that should’ve been mentioned before rather than giving your own spin on it.”

Norton & Askern Coun John Gilliver, who served as a firefighter for 30 years, was told to ‘keep it professional’ by committee chair Coun Mark Houlbrook.

But Coun Gilliver said: “No firefighter worth their salt would agree to riding in a four-man crew.

“I’m sorry, but I’m very passionate about the safety of the public and that of firefighters.

“This puts people’s lives at risk and I don’t accept the blasé attitude.”

A public consultation on the plans, which ends at the end of August, offers two choices of either reducing the number of fire engines or the number of staff.

The consultation was likened by one councillor to a branch with ‘one end caked in mud and the other sharp enough to cut you’.

Fire chiefs also told councillors that a good chunk £22.8 million reserve fund has already been committed to refurbishing stations and noted £3 million to improve Edlington, Lowedges in Sheffield and Tankersley in Barnsley.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union, who were present at the meeting, had called on the authority to use some of the reserves to plug the funding gap.

Deputy chief fire officer Alex Johnson said: “We do lobby Government, we’ve lobbied the Home Office, the national inspectorate, speak to fire ministers to try and get better funding for South Yorkshire every time we get the opportunity.

“This solution that we’ve put forward means we can respond with the same number of appliances while saving the amount of money that we have to.

“The majority of our budget goes on salaries - we’re talking pumps of people and I believe we can’t reduce the number of appliances we’ve got because we want to respond as quickly as possible.”

Stewart Booth, director of support services at SYF&R said: “If we do not have a proper plan in place, then the inspectorate will be making a critical comment that we do not have a viable medium-term financial plan.

“It’s a choice to delay that members can make but it is not one we can sustain - using the reserves as a strategy is not sustainable.

“We can do it for a time-limited period and we informed all councillors in South Yorkshire that it’s a possibility but we need to have a savings plan like the council has a savings plan because we have a funding gap.”

Councillors recommended to reject the plans put forward by SYFR.