`

Front line of Northumberland's fire service to be protected from cuts

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service's headquarters.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service's headquarters.

There will be no cuts to the front line of the fire and rescue service as part of £24million of budget savings, a senior Northumberland councillor has said.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s cabinet, members approved for consultation £24million of provisional cuts, with the final sign-off to come when next year’s budget is finalised in February next year.

As previously reported, the savings – needed because, despite moves in the right direction, the council is still facing a £36million deficit over the next three years – are made up of efficiencies from almost every department of the local authority.

This includes £3.8million from children’s services; £10million from adults, wellbeing and health; £1million from culture, leisure and arts; £1.6million from planning, housing and resilience; £1.7million from resources, revenues and benefits; and £4.9million from environment and local services.

A One Council programme to look at the likes of management structures, commercial opportunities and budgets for printing, photocopying, postage and mileage will aim to contribute a further £1million in savings.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service falls under the planning, housing and resilience department and the report to councillors mentions ‘operational efficiencies’ as a way in which money will be saved.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member with responsibility for the fire service, said that there was no form of proposed cuts to appliances or the frontline service.

“We are actually investing in the retained fire service,” he added. “There will be efficiencies in that it will be a better service, not a worse service.”

Cuts of £500,000 in 2016, through the replacement of several fire engines with smaller appliances and the closure of Haydon Bridge Fire Station, proved highly controversial.

Referring to the council’s financial plight more generally, council leader Peter Jackson said: “We took on the running of the council when the finances were in quite significant disarray.

“We can’t deliver our ambitious programme unless we have a council that’s fit for purpose and can deliver what the people of Northumberland expect.

“We are absolutely going to maintain frontline services as much as possible and people up and down the county would expect that.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service