Spend savings, save jobs say councillors in fire dispute

Fire chiefs who need to save money should dip into savings rather than cut jobs, say Sheffield councillors.

Friday, 14th June 2019, 2:29 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th June 2019, 4:41 pm

South Yorkshire Fire Authority has cost pressures of up to £4 million and is looking at cutting 84 firefighters jobs.

It is consulting on two possible options:

Whether to maintain the number of fire engines available 24/7 across the county, but reduce the number of firefighters on an engine from five to four.Or reduce the amount of fire engines available 24/7 across South Yorkshire, but keep five firefighters on each of them.

The Fire Bridgades Union is strongly opposing the plans and has collected a petition with more than 10,000 names, which was handed to councillors this week.

Councillors say the authority should look at spending its reserves but fire chiefs says this wouldn’t be financially responsible.

Coun Paul Wood, cabinet member for community safety, told a council meeting: “South Yorkshire Fire Authority has cash reserves of nearly £25 million and that should be used to deal with the current issues.”

Lib Dem councillor Andrew Sangar said: “These proposals need far more scrutiny. We have more than £24 million in reserves and we need to spend some of that money.”

Green councillor Douglas Johnson said the petition was “an inferno of signatures” and added: “We are completely behind supporting this petition. It’s utter madness to cut frontline fire service jobs.”

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson, said the authority had a duty to provide the service in a financially responsible way.

He said: “We need to provide a fire service to the public not just now, not just for the next two or three years, but for decades into the future.

“Like other public bodies nationally and even more so locally, the service has prudently built up healthy reserves.

“Reserves are now beginning to fall and will continue to do so as we invest £17m in new and refurbished stations, new fire engines and operational firefighting equipment. It has been suggested that this money could be used to cover the big, annual cost pressures the service faces.

“The problem with this approach is that, much like your own personal savings at home, once they’re gone, they’re gone. It doesn’t make sense to spend reserves on annual costs like staff salaries which make up the bulk of the money the service spends unless it is for a short, time limited period.

“By using reserves to pay for big, one off projects like building new fire stations or buying new fire engines this avoids having to borrow and repay the money which is more expensive.

“Borrowing instead of using reserves could cost the service over £500,000 every year for the next 25 years.”

There public consultation is available here:

http://www.syfire.gov.uk/haveyoursay/