CAMBS: Lib Dems say ‘worst case scenario’ fire service budget could cost lives

A ‘WORST case scenario’ budget - devised in case cuts to Cambridgeshire’s fire service exceed expectations - has been condemned by the county’s Liberal Democrats.

Fire Authority members approved phase one of the plan yesterday, claiming it would help Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service “act quickly” if budget cuts exceed the �4.2 million already planned.

But the Lib Dems fear lives will be put at risk and insist the Conservatives have made these cuts inevitable by setting council tax rises at 2.5 per cent, below current inflation levels.

Councillor Nigel Bell, Lib Dem Leader on the Fire Authority, said: “We have a moral duty to protect the public and these cuts are unacceptable and could cost lives.

“The Tory members have made these cuts inevitable by their insistence on setting council tax rises at well below inflation.

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“We proposed an extra one per cent, or one pence a week, council tax rise which could have been sufficient to make these cuts unnecessary; but the Tories’ members rejected this at the fire authority meeting last week.”

Recommendations approved yesterday included the downgrading of Huntingdon Fire Station to day-crewed status and the removal of the station’s rescue vehicle.

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A further meeting will be held in May for the authority to consider proposals to remove the second fire engines at Soham, Ely, St Ives and Ramsey.

There will also be decisions made on the closure of Manea, Thorney, Gamlingay and either Burwell of Swaffham fire stations.

Chris Strickland, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, said: “It is important that members of the public realise that the recommendations which were approved today form part of our ‘worst case scenario’ plan of action and will only be implemented if the overall budget cuts exceed the �4.2 million we have already planned for.”

Authority members agreed that if cuts exceeded �5.5 million, then the service would need to look at trimming back its support services and officer provision, which would take the savings over the �6 million mark.

Mr Strickland said the authority would not know until December what the Government spending settlement would be and that there was nothing to stop the cuts going above the �4.2 million figure.

He said: “We have a duty to plan for this and to keep the residents of Cambridgeshire informed of what is happening.

“We can’t bury our heads in the sand, cuts this severe would have to result in fewer fire engines and a reduction in service to the public.

“This isn’t something we want to do, but we do have a duty to plan for this, so we can take action if we need to.

“It’s also important to stress that even if the figure is �4.2 million, making these cuts will not be easy and will severely impact on how well we are able to support our frontline service.

“With reduced numbers of support staff we will only be able to maintain the bare minimum in terms of support for the frontline and won’t be able to continue delivering groundbreaking and innovative work as we have in the past.”

Cllr Bell added: “People’s lives will be put at risk by these cuts and the blame must largely fall on Tory Fire Authority Members for keeping council tax rises well below inflation.

“We can only hope that the Government’s grant to Cambridgeshire’s Fire Service is fairer for the next two years and that the very worst of these cuts can then be avoided.”

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