Council ‘ignored wishes of the public’ over fire service cuts

From left, Steve Walker, chairman of the FBU in Northumberland, Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, Grant Davey, leader of the county council, and Guy Tiffin, secretary of the FBU in Northumberland, at the petition hand over.

From left, Steve Walker, chairman of the FBU in Northumberland, Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, Grant Davey, leader of the county council, and Guy Tiffin, secretary of the FBU in Northumberland, at the petition hand over.

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The Northumberland County councillors who agreed the budget at a meeting on Wednesday have been accused of ignoring the views of the public over planned cuts to the fire service.

Although the actual proposals, which include closing Haydon Bridge Fire Station and taking a fire engine out of the West Hartford base, still need to be approved at a future council meeting, the £500,000 reduction in funding has now been confirmed.

The local authority says it needs to save the money as a result of reductions in the authority’s budget by central government and it has focused on making sure the service can still respond to large scale incident or emergencies.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is opposing the plans and more than 10,000 people signed a petition against the cuts for Northumberland.

In addition, it says a significant majority of people who responded to the consultation support the union’s position.

Guy Tiffin, secretary of the FBU in Northumberland, said: “It is completely unacceptable for the council to ignore the consultation and the thousands who signed our petition.

“Council taxpayers’ money was used to give the public a voice in this decision, so it is morally wrong for the results to then be ignored when the budgets are set.

“The council will discuss the cuts at meetings throughout March and April, but this will be pointless when budgets for each department will have already been set.”

Members set up stalls in a number of Northumberland towns in late January and in each location, people were lining up to sign the petition.

Steve Walker, chairman of the FBU in Northumberland, said: “The support from the public has been amazing. They fully understand what we’re trying to achieve.

“Under current national operational guidelines, minimum numbers of fire personnel are required for many types of incident. Therefore, these cuts will have a major impact on the service.

“For example, there could be house fires where the crew has to wait for another engine to arrive from a different station in order to meet the requirements.

“We have attended fewer incidents in recent years, but we’re a life-saving service and we need to be able to respond effectively to major incidents. The fire service at Newcastle Airport will very rarely have to put out a big fire or attend a crash incident, but it is always on standby just in case.”

He added that the county council could have followed Cumbria County Council’s lead as this authority scrapped plans to close five part-time stations in the area, citing the major public backlash against the proposals as a key reason.