Fire service cuts slammed

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A FIRE chief has branded cuts to the local fire service as ‘scandalous’ and unfair.

Councillors have agreed to freeze the amount local authorities give to the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service next year – but 150 jobs will be lost.

The decision to freeze the precept means that the average cost to council tax payers remains at less than £1 per week and the fire authority can stay within government budget guidelines.

But the fire service must now sort out a £5.8m cash shortfall for 2011/12 and will do this by suspending full-time firefighter recruitment for the forseeable future, losing 150 support posts and drawing on £850,000 from balances.

The chairman of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Coun David Ridgeway, said: “Central government is reducing fire grants by 25 per cent over the next four years but the method by which funds are distributed means that West Yorkshire will lose even more, heralding a period of unprecedented change in the way we provide essential services.”

Coun Ridgeway said it was a scandal that between 2011 and 2013 metropolitan fire authorities – which served the most deprived inner city areas of the country and also provided the backbone of emergency resilience – would lose twice the national average reduction in fire grants.

“With prudent financial management, we can steer the brigade through the next two years, but from 2013 the impact of cuts will be dramatically more profound.”

Chief fire officer Simon Pilling said ministers had yet to reveal the exact level of grant for 2013-15, though the budget shortfall could rise to an additional £11m.

He said: “Obviously cuts on that scale can’t be managed without affecting the front-line, which is why I have embarked on a root-and-branch review of fire cover across the whole county.

“We will have to try and deliver the same with much, much less.

“Non-recruitment alone will cost 200 firefighters posts over the four-year period.”