Warning of job losses and cuts to fire service

Oakham fire station following the development. ENGEMN00120131028121943
Oakham fire station following the development. ENGEMN00120131028121943
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Firefighters have been warned more cuts are on the cards to bridge a £7.5m funding gap during the next five years.

Oakham fire station could lose one of its engines and taxpayers could face a groundbreaking referendum on council tax hikes in a series of cost-cutting ideas.

Chief fire officer for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, Dave Webb, said staff face “an extremely challenging time” as a result of continued government funding cuts.

The service faces a £3.9m deficit over the next three years and £7.5m over five years. Mr Webb said: “It’s not a situation we wish to be in. It’s completely out of our hands in terms of having to balance the budget but we are working hard to find resolutions to anything that results in a reduction in service or anyone losing their job.”

Fifteen money-saving measures will be reviewed in detail ahead of a meeting in September where some will be taken forward to a 12-week public consultation. Final decisions will be made early next year.

Ideas include removing Oakham’s second engine, reducing the number of firefighters who man each engine from five to four, reducing overtime pay, restructuring the board of directors and cutting the number of support staff.

Spokesman for the East Midlands Fire Brigades Union, Gary Mitchell, said: “We are flabbergasted that the brigade has got itself into this mess. The austerity cuts have been going on for a long time but the authority has still set aside £4.2m for capital projects. You would expect them to be the first to go.”

Last year £1.8m was spent improving facilities at Oakham fire station following a change in shift patterns.

The FBU is now working on its own money-saving plans.

Mr Mitchell added: “We have huge concerns about the impact these proposals would have on the health and safety of our members and the public.”

Oakham’s second appliance is currently manned by 14 retained firefighters who would be made redundant if the plans go ahead.

A referendum on council tax is also being considered but it comes with its own financial risks. The only way the authority can boost its own income is to increase its share of the council tax bill but the government imposes a cap of two per cent. The only alternative is to hold a referendum and ask the public to agree to a higher increase, but the consultation would cost the authority £1m and if the public voted against the increase, it would cost a further £1m to reissue their bills.

No fire authority in the country has ever taken these steps because of the financial risks.

But Mr Webb said: “It would resolve a number of these issues and would definitely reduce the almost inevitable risk of voluntary and compulsory redundancies.”

The proposals

- Remove the second appliance in Oakham

- Consider merging the Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire control centres

- Reduce the number of support staff

- Cut the number of firefighters on each engine to four

- Axe the resilience team

- Cut the number of flexible duty officers

- Cut the overtime rate from one-and-a-half to one

- Restructure the board of directors

- Remove the second appliance in Loughborough

- Remove one appliance from Leicester city

- Cut catering provision at all stations

- Change staffing of the area ladder platform in eicester

- Introduce day staffing at Wigston fire station

- Scrap plans for day crewing at Market Harborough and Lutterworth

- Hold a referendum to increase council tax