More cuts 'could mean fire station closures'
CONTINUING cuts to Humberside Fire and Rescue Service could lead to station closures, the Fire Brigades Union has warned.
Union leaders say the service could be forced to lose between 50 and 60 frontline firefighters in the next year.
According to Humberside's union branch, the cuts threaten engines, stations and response times.
Although the union is not considering industrial action at the moment, branch chairman Rob Vaux said all options would be on the table if redundancies were announced.
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He said: "So far, the cuts have been through natural wastage and retirement but if you don't replace those jobs, it will have a significant impact.
"If you do see any cuts beyond natural wastage, our membership will put significant pressure on us to ballot for strike action.
"The tipping point will come when our members feel their families and members of the public are more at risk."
The Local Government Association (LGA) has said English fire services could lose £300m of funding in the next five years – almost a third of their budgets.
Chris Blacksell, assistant chief fire officer for Humberside, said the LGA's figures were speculative but the service was preparing for further cutbacks.
He is expecting a £1.6m deficit in the financial year from April 2014 to April 2015.
He said: "We're looking at every possible option to save the money we think we will need to save.
"Options will include changes to operational cover but also things in the background like support services.
"In future years, we do anticipate delivering the service with fewer full-time firefighters."
The fire service is ahead of its own response targets, with engines taking an average of five minutes and 46 seconds to arrive at homes.
Mr Blacksell does not predict any cuts to those targets in coming years.
He said: "We're not planning on changing our response standards. I don't suspect we will need to. I don't think, over the next two years, anything we did implement would mean we wouldn't achieve our response standards.
"The problem is, we don't know what our funding is going to be beyond 2014 to 2015."
The Humberside Fire Authority, a body made up of councillors from across the region, has frozen taxpayers' contributions to the service in their council tax precept.
Mr Vaux said the region's taxpayers may need to spend more next year.
He said: "If we don't up the precept and the Government cuts the budget, it will mean a reduction in fire cover.
"It will be interesting to see what the general public's view is. A reduction in firefighter numbers will inevitably lead to an increase in attendance times."