Tyne and Wear fire boss slams ‘ludicrous’ funding ahead of inspection

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A ‘ludicrous’ approach to paying for fire services means they could be penalised for preventing blazes, according to a Tyne and Wear fire boss.

Nick Forbes, vice chairman of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority (TWFRA), criticised funding rules as the organisation prepared for its first assessment under a new government inspection regime.

Coun Nick Forbes.

Coun Nick Forbes.

The review is expected to take place in October and as it approaches firefighters have been urging inspectors to take into account budget pressures since 2010.

Speaking at a TWFRA  meeting this week, Coun Forbes, who is also leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “Our approach is to try to drive down risk by preventing things happening in the first place.

“It’s in our interests on paper to have more incidents because that drives up the efficiency on paper, which is a ludicrous approach.

“There’s a danger it starts to get people to game the system.

“It’s important to have a focus on prevention and make the case that we should be funded for risk prevention.”

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) says it has seen its budget slashed from £59.4m to £48.1m since 2010.

According to Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther this makes it among the worst affected by government austerity policies in the country, with the lowest spend per incident.

Over the same period, he added, fire services else have seen no ‘real terms’ cuts to their finances.

Yet despite pressures, in the last two years there have also been no fire deaths in Tyne and Wear.

A team from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, which has been responsible for inspecting fire authorities since last year, is due in Tyne and Wear in October.

“The reactionary image of the firefighter is not true,” said CFO Lowther, who is keen to highlight to inspectors how preventative work has helped maintain a balanced budget.

“I would like to get a recognition [that TYFRS is under funded].

“I will be hammering home the financial journey we have been on and after the cuts we are still as fast at responding to high risk incidents, but we’re not as fast at responding to low risk incidents.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service