Fire service will be fit for purpose, says chief

Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett
Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett

Northumberland’s fire chief has defended proposed changes to the service, saying ‘we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

In the light of concerns raised about the cuts, with the service required to save £500,000 in 2016/17, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Alex Bennett has been speaking at town and parish council meetings in an effort to reassure communities.

“I have got a legal responsibility to balance my budget, but I still have to protect the community,” he said.

The changes are focused on the county’s retained firefighters and appliances and come on the back of £3million already saved since 2010.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s budget is around £16/17million, but £4/5million goes straight towards the likes of paying for leased fire engines, while salaries, primarily for whole-time firefighters, account for another £9/10million.

CFO Bennett pointed out that while the Chancellor George Osborne said that he would protect police budgets in real terms in his Spending Review last month, there was no such reprieve for the fire service, whose budget is part of the county council, at a time when local authorities are taking the brunt of the cuts.

Beyond the next financial year, the future for the service is up in the air too.

There is currently legislation going forward which would allow Police and Crime Commissioners to take responsibility for fire services, while a Mayor for the North East, elected as part of the region’s devolution deal, could also take over fire services.

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