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Cuts leave fire service 'unable to cope'

Fire authorities across England and Wales are at "crisis point" as government funding cuts have left them unable to respond to national emergencies

Fire authorities across England and Wales are at "crisis point" as government funding cuts have left them unable to respond to national emergencies, local authorities warned yesterday.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said authorities across the two nations are starting the new financial year with a third less cash from central government than four years ago.

And a further 10 per cent cut has been earmarked for 2015/16 - forcing councils to make more "tough decisions."

The LGA pointed out that the funding gap of a typical authority was increasing by £3 million a year and this hole is set to reach £17.5m by 2020.

Millions of pounds have already been saved by changing shift arrangements, cutting firefighter jobs, freezing recruitment and pay and cutting back-office costs, it added.

LGA's fire services management committee chairwoman Kay Hammond warned that further funding cuts could heavily impact on the ability of the 46 fire services in England and Wales to perform effectively.

She said: "The reality is that fire services are reaching the limit of efficiency savings and the next few years will be very challenging for them all.

"If fire and rescue services are expected to keep playing a key role in national resilience, then they must be given the funding to do so effectively."

The LGA called on ministers to protect local government from further spending cuts and to give more support to fire authorities which are considering merging or sharing services.

It warned that a typical authority was one "on the brink of a crisis," being "backed into a corner" by funding cuts.

An independent report by Sir Ken Knight has stated the need for fire authorities spending above the average to find ways to reduce their costs, thereby "freeing up" a supposed £200m a year to be reinvested.

But firefighters union FBU warned against suggestions that council taxes should increase, or that further back-office savings and front-line cuts should be implemented.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "The LGA is right to say that fire and rescue services must be given the funding to play a key, continued role in national resilience.

"But it's clear that across the country cuts are already slowing emergency response times, impacting on critical services and endangering lives.

"Merely creating a greater burden on local people by increasing council tax, reducing effectiveness by cutting cover at night or instigating further attacks on firefighters by reducing salaries after three long years of removing their pensions will not work."

Last week FBU accused London Mayor Boris Johnson of having "blood on his hands" after 83-year-old Maurice Cunliffe died days after being pulled from his burning flat.

Mr Johnson had closed nearby Woolwich fire station just two months before the incident, meaning firefighters took two minutes longer to respond.


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