South Yorkshire fire chief says budget cuts will mean lives lost

Warning: Jamie Courtney, South Yorkshire's chief fire officer.
Warning: Jamie Courtney, South Yorkshire's chief fire officer.
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SOUTH Yorkshire’s Chief fire officer has issued a stark warning that continued cuts to the service’s budget could see seven fire stations axed in South Yorkshire - putting lives at risk.

Chief fire officer Jamie Courtney gave the dire warning in a report put together by the Association of Metropolitan Fire and Rescue Authorities which represents the six largest fire departments in the country.

In it he said continued government cuts would result in more deaths because it would take frontline staff longer to reach stricken casualties.

Mr Courtney and colleagues in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire say more cuts will result in the sacking of frontline firefighters and longer response times.

They say fire services have already suffered ‘disproportionate cuts’ by the government and claim if they continue at the same pace - around 27 per cent - for the rest of the spending review period to 2015, they will have a ‘potentially catastrophic impact’.

In the last financial year fire authorities cut 2,172 jobs - including 1,457 firefighters.

Mr Courtney said yesterday seven fire stations would have to go in South Yorkshire to fund another 27 per cent of budget cuts.

He said: “The extreme option of closing seven community fire stations would be necessary to absorb a further 27 per cent cut from the government grant.

“There would be an increase in deaths and injuries due to longer attendance times. The projected population increase, combined with the ongoing depressed economic climate would result in more people dying in fires and road traffic collisions.”

Fire Brigades Union South Yorkshire secretary John Gilliver said: “I welcome Mr Courtney’s comments but his speaking out is long overdue.The cuts we are already experiencing mean people’s lives have been put at increased risk for some time.”

The Government is expected to announce the next wave of cuts in mid December.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Fire services can make sensible savings without impacting on the quality and breadth of services offered to communities.

“Savings can include more flexible staffing arrangements, better sickness management, sharing back-office services, improved procurement and sharing chief fire officers and other senior staff.”