At today’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s cabinet, members signed off on the proposals, which had been through a public consultation, for the closure of Haydon Bridge Fire Station, the removal of the retained appliance at West Hartford Fire Station in Cramlington and replacing the retained fire engines at Alnwick (second appliance), Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler with smaller vehicles.
The proposals, required because Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has to save £500,000 in 2016/17 on top of £1.5million over the past two years, have proved very controversial, but the service claims it faces a ‘no-win scenario of cuts’.
Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett reiterated that the service will continue to be ‘highly resilient and effective’, but that this decision is a result of ‘national priorities’ in which fire and rescue services’ budgets are not protected with cuts being made ‘across the north of England’.
Council and Labour leader Grant Davey said: “There’s not a department in this council that can dodge the cuts. It’s about sharing the pain across the council. They have taken a huge amount out of back office so they only need to close one fire station.”
And Coun Dave Ledger, chairman of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Authority and deputy leader of the county council, added: “If anyone think Alex Bennett and his team or Dave Ledger as chairman of the fire authority wants to close any fire stations or get rid of any firefighters, they are in a fantasy world.”
However, Conservative group leader, Peter Jackson, said: “The chickens are coming home to roost because of the decisions this administration made in the budget, which were to cut frontline services while going on a wild capital spending spree. You can’t say this is all down to the Government, it’s down to the conscious choices this administration has made.”
Lib Dem group leader, Coun Jeff Reid, said he didn’t ‘want to get into the raw politics, because it’s petty’, but backed Coun Jackson’s amendment to remove the West Hartford and Haydon Bridge proposals and fund the shortfall from council reserves. This amendment was voted down and the changes as originally proposed were approved.
Following the vote, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the cuts, which will also see fire engines replaced with smaller vehicles carrying less life-saving equipment, will leave both the public and firefighters at greater risk of serious injury at emergencies.
Guy Tiffin, secretary for the FBU in Northumberland, said: “Our ability to protect the public will be severely compromised by these indefensible cuts. We ask that councillors reconsider this decision that will cost lives.
“Smaller fire crews that lack all the current specialist equipment could put firefighters in the very real situation of turning up at fires, road traffic accidents or flooding incidents and being unable to perform rescues.
“For firefighters, the safety of the public is non-negotiable. This should be a shared agenda for all local political parties. Sadly, from the decisions we have seen today, it is not. We implore Northumberland County Council to reconsider these devastating cuts.”