According to independent research organisation the Institute for Fiscal Studies 94% of the coalition government’s spending cuts remain to be implemented. In a bid to save £10 million from its budget the South Yorkshire fire authority has just agreed to make 145 fire fighters redundant and close four fire stations.
Now, with nine out of the twelve councillors on the authority coming from the Labour Party a senior official within the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has cast doubt on their effectiveness and questions whether Labour councillors nationally are preventing the coalition government for taking the blame for cuts by acting “as a shield.”
Back in the 1980s Labour councils in Lambeth and Liverpool were unwilling to do the same and they defied the law and refused to set budgets that broke pledges on which they had been elected. This resulted in councillors being surcharged and debarred from office.
Having already lost £4.7 million in government grants, the fire authority has acted in advance of Government announcements on further cuts it will expect them to manage from 2013 onwards. According to councillor Jim Andrews, the organisations chair “the annual budget could vary by up to £6 million. We don’t want to make these changes but we have no other option faced with such a huge budget reduction.”
The FBU had wanted councillors to wait, and according to its South Yorkshire Brigade Secretary Matt Winslow “have been left disappointed by the failure of councillors to consider using its cash reserve of £15 million until we know the real picture.” He pointed out that South Yorkshire Police Authority has agreed to use £11 million of its reserves over the next three years to save 110 police officers and 22 community support officers posts.
Winslow is worried about a possible hot spell during the summer, fearing that an outbreak of grass fires will be difficult to tackle as “we will have a lot less vehicles and it may mean having to prioritise calls and hold others till later.”
A spokesperson for the authority has however denied being unable to “provide emergency fire cover at all times or that the service we provide is at breaking point.”
Meanwhile, Winslow is also concerned that even after these latest round of cuts have been implemented there will be more to come. In a joint government submission with West Yorkshire and four other Metropolitan authorities, South Yorkshire fire authority has warned these ‘would be unsustainable and would lead to life threatening reductions in fire cover and national resilience capacity.’
“The FBU has already been left disappointed by a Labour majority fire authority not doing more to minimise the cuts. There does become a point, and its not far away, at which there is little value to such people being councillors as they are deflecting attention from who is ultimately responsible for the cuts by acting as a shield” said Winslow.
Councillor Jim Andrews was unwilling to respond to Winslow’s comments.