Fire engine response times and vital prevention and protection work could be at risk unless more’s done to address how we’re funded.
The stark warning, from the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and the Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, follows their meeting with prominent MPs in Westminster.
CFO Phil Loach and Councillor John Edwards raised a number of issues at the meeting, including how sustained cuts could harm the delivery of vital services to West Midlands communities.
The latest Home Office statistics reveal a 21 per cent reduction in firefighters across England since 2010, which is mirrored in the West Midlands.
The CFO and Chair also voiced concerns that fire and rescue services are approaching a tipping point which could mean:
- people having to wait longer for fire crews to arrive in an emergency
- less community-based prevention work with vulnerable people including the elderly and schoolchildren
- less fire safety work with West Midlands businesses
- more fires.
CFO Phil Loach said that, while WMFS continues to provide excellent prevention, protection and response services, reductions in funding and staffing numbers are a cause for concern.
He said: “The money we get from the Government dropped by £28m between 2011/12 and 2015/16. We’re expecting further cuts of £10m by 2020.
“The public need total confidence in their fire service to be able to deliver. It’s essential that fire and rescue services are resilient, adequately resourced and can respond quickly to a wide range of emergencies. This all needs to be based on risk, not demand.
“The Fire Authority Chair and I are keen to work with the government to establish and implement sustainable funding mechanisms.”
Cllr John Edwards, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “The latest figures from the Government itself expose the impact of unprecedented cuts on the fire and rescue services nationwide. Thousands fewer firefighters mean less prevention and protection work and a negative impact on response times.”
West Midlands Fire Service has attempted to address its Government funding reductions by bringing in new ways of working while avoiding cuts to frontline services. Two trainee firefighter courses were run in 2017, with another due in January. The aim is to recruit a total of 90 new firefighters by April 2018.
The CFO has also called for the Government to introduce more flexibility on funding. Currently, if Fire and Rescue Authorities want to increase Council Tax charges by more than 2 per cent, there must be a local referendum. Such a vote would be at significant cost to the taxpayer, which would be disproportionate to the potential additional income
The Government’s budget will be delivered at the Autumn Statement on 22 November. Fire and rescue services will find out what their grants will be in mid-December.