Sweeping brigade cuts will cost lives warns Yorkshire fire chief

One of Yorkshire’s most senior fire officers has warned that “lives will be lost” if the Government goes ahead with further sweeping funding cuts to his brigade budget, revealing that six more county fire stations are set to close and hundreds more firefighters’ jobs are at risk.

Martin Redfearn, assistant chief officer of West Yorkshire Fire Service, said the likelihood of further savage funding cuts means he is now drawing up plans for the closure of 12 more fire stations across the brigade area, to be replaced with six new ones.

If confirmed, the move would bring the total number of fire station closures announced in West Yorkshire this year to 22, with 11 new stations being built in their place.

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Mr Redfearn added that the number of firefighters’ jobs to go in West Yorkshire if the Government pushes ahead with “worst case scenario” funding cuts this December will rise from 80 to 300.

Appearing before a panel of MPs, Mr Redfearn was asked if lives would be lost if the Government cut as deeply as he feared

“Being a blunt Yorkshireman, the answer is yes,” he said. “But (it will be) long term. It is not going to happen next year but in four or five years’ time, as there will be a reduction in prevention work.

“If we cannot phase or plan the cuts, we will have a situation where there will be isolated pockets of communities and at-risk communities.”

So far the Government has only announced the first two years of each fire brigade’s funding settlement.

Senior fire officers from five of the country’s largest brigades appeared before the local government select committee in Parliament to warn of the consequences if the second round of cuts is as bad as they fear.

Mr Redfearn said: “If we get above-average cuts, that (job losses figure) will probably double to 160.

“It is the ability to make the cuts which is difficult, as the only tools we have is to make firefighters redundant. If we have the worst-case scenario we are expecting the 80 figure to go up to 300 fire fighters.

“To do that we have to shut fire stations, we have to take fire engines away from the busiest places as you could not remove them from the quietest places.

“West Yorkshire’s plan is to shut 10 fire stations over the next three years and build five new ones to save money. We are already planning the next 12 closures, but those all take time.”

The fire chiefs claimed Metropolitan areas had been hit disproportionately hard by the Coalition’s first round of funding cuts, and called for a flat-rate cut this time round.

They told MPs that Shire areas had on average received half the funding cut that they had suffered, and a handful had even enjoyed funding increases.

But Fire Minister Bob Neill insisted Metropolitan services have not suffered disproportionately.

“I don’t accept the premise,” he said. “We applied the formula that we inherited from the previous Government, with a couple of technical adjustments.”

“There were in some cases very small increases for one or two non-Metropolitan brigades. However we applied dampening to the formula, which significantly protected Metropolitan authorities more than anyone else.

“Across the four-year period, Met authorities were protected by a total of £26m. I don’t think, taking the picture as a whole, that the Mets have been singled out.”

Mr Neill said the average funding per head of population for the Mets is currently £26, compared with funding in the Shire brigades of £19.

But he added: “I have always been on the record as saying the formula which we inherited does have unfairness in it right across the whole system, and that’s why the Government is proposing to change the way in which we fund local authorities across the piste.

“That’s the whole point of moving to the introduction of retained non-domestic rates.”

And rejecting any suggestion that lives will be lost if further deep cuts are introduced by the Government, he said: “I don’t believe that’s justified by any of the evidence I’ve seen.”