Sparks fly as fire station closures are confirmed

Firefighters outside the meeting in Barnsley where fire service cus are being discussed
Firefighters outside the meeting in Barnsley where fire service cus are being discussed

FIREFIGHTERS’ leaders in South Yorkshire were this week pondering their next move after the go-ahead for a strategy involving the closure of four fire stations.

They repeated warnings of a risk to public safety as a result of a reorganisation that will see the shutting of three Sheffield stations – at Mansfield Road, Darnall, Mosborough – and one in Barnsley, at Royston.

Two new stations will be built, one near the Sheffield Parkway and one at Birley, and the fire authority insisted the proposed savings – to meet Government targets – will have a “minimum” impact on fire cover.

But the Fire Brigades Union will hold branch meetings to decide how to respond, with the option of strike action described as a last resort.

The cuts package will also see three fire appliances taken out of services and the loss of 32 part-time firefighters’s jobs.

Over the next few years, 108 full-time firefighters due to retire will not be replaced. Some working hours are also being changed.

After months of consultation and controversy, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority approved the proposals on Monday.

Afterwards, FBU member John Gilliver said: “Our members are really angry so there will be a series of branch meetings to discuss what to do next – it is an absolute travesty that cuts on this level have been approved.”

Cuts were not necessary because there was enough cash in reserves, he said.

“We need to wait and see what the Government is going to give us in the next grant without making hasty cuts now. We’re here to save lives. These cuts mean we won’t be able to do that in the same way any more and lives will be at risk.”

Coun Jim Andrews, who chairs the fire authority, said: “We don’t want to make these changes but we have no other option faced with such a huge reduction in our budget.

“We firmly believe that the proposals approved today will help us achieve the necessary savings whilst having the minimum impact on fire cover.

“However, we are still in an uncertain position because the Government won’t tell us what our grant reduction will be after 2013.

“Our medium-term annual budget could vary by up to £6m, depending on the size of the cut, so we need to keep our reserves to plan for the worst.”

Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney said: “As professional officers we have carried out extensive research into how we can make the necessary savings whilst having the least impact on the service we provide to people in South Yorkshire.

“It is impossible to take millions of pounds out of a budget without affecting service delivery but these changes will help us cope with the budget reduction whilst minimising the impact on emergency fire cover.”

The service says it has already made cuts of 25% to management and back office costs to help protect frontline services but they will save less than £3m – a fraction of the £10m expected overall Government grant cut.