Firefighter funding branded 'perilous' as 'frightening' cuts discussed at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue meeting
The future of funding for Tyne and Wear’s firefighters has been branded ‘at best, perilous’ by fire chiefs.
In June, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) was officially marked Good by assessors from HMICFRS, the government’s fire and police watchdog – despite government cuts which have seen the brigade’s spending power slashed by about a fifth since 2010.
But although they acknowledged the financial challenges facing the organisation, inspectors raised concerns about its ability to meet further savings targets forced on it.
“This is not happening in a vacuum, the direction of travel for finances for the authority is, at best, perilous,” said Newcastle councillor Tom Woodwark, who sits on the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, which oversees the brigade.
“[The report] talks about the introduction of new systems and the reduction by 31% of frontline staff and 38% in back office.
“Anywhere else in the world this would be frightening, but it comes at a time when we have a plan for the current year, but we do not have a plan for next year, although there may be one coming in.”
Coun Woodwark was speaking about the report at a meeting of the fire authority’s Governance Committee.
The Liberal Democrat also claimed the report was ‘scathing about how the long term picture has been handled’.
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In February, the authority approved cost cutting plans worth about £717,000, but held off making a decision on two further measures expected to save more than £2.6m.
South Tyneside councillor Wilf Flynn however insisted the authority was ready to implement the proposals if needed.
He added: Wilf: “We made a decision for the year, but the rest is still in the plan and we could pick that up later this year and ratify it.
“It’s not that we’ve forgotten, it’s still in the system to take it off the shelf and implement it.”
Inspectors also praised TWFRS for its fast response times, knowledge of its communities and passionate people.