Plans to reduce fire crew cover in Nottinghamshire move a step forward as public consultation approved

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin
By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

Plans which could see Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service reducing its fire crew cover have taken a step forward after councillors voted to move ahead to public consultation.

The major changes, intending to save £2m to reduce a budget deficit, would see West Bridgford Fire Station have no crew on duty at all at night, and both London Road and Stockhill stations losing one fire engine each.

But the Fire Brigades Union claimed the plans would “further endanger the lives of the public and the safety of fire crews”.

Recommendations for a public consultation to start on the plans were passed with nine votes for, eight against and one abstention during a Fire Authority meeting on September 23.

Councillor Michael Payne (Lab), chair of the authority, said it was with “deep regret” that they had to consider such proposals.

Chief Fire Officer Craig Parkin said the service is looking at a £6m deficit over the next six years.

He added: “My real fear is that if the financial situation does not improve in 12 months, that in 2024 we could be making firefighters redundant.

The major changes would leave West Bridgford station with solely day cover and no firefighters working through the night.

As crews would come from other areas overnight, this is expected to increase average response times by 43 seconds at a station already significantly above the service’s eight-minute target.

But in Ashfield, the fire service plans the return of 24-hour cover at the Kirkby-in-Ashfield station in a move hailed by local leaders as a “massive victory” for residents and public safety.

In 2018 the service made a decision to take away full-time crew cover from Ashfield in favour of on-call cover over night.

A number of councillors suggested that the fire authority uses its reserves of cash to prevent the cuts – but Mr Parkin said this would only be “pushing the can down the road”.

The fire service says the changes are the “best option” for recouping a shortfall in its budget.

Mr Parkin said during the meeting: “These are not the kind of reports a Chief Fire Officer wants to present.

“Unfortunately, we have to balance the budget at the same time. It is a very difficult report and it is something I have wrangled with for many weeks now to get to this point.

“There are some very challenging times ahead about where we cut our cloth accordingly.”

He added that a workforce review of 158 staff has also been carried out, looking at if further savings can be made for staff who are not firefighters.

The authority is “seeking to make some cost savings” from this group.

Mr Parkin added: “We’ve got a lot of people who are very anxious about what this means for them.

“We are talking about human beings here and we will provide them with clarity as quickly as we can.”

Michael Payne (Lab) said during the meeting: “The difficult choices are unwelcomed by all of those involved.

“It is with deep regret we are here at all today to consider such proposals.

“There is a legal requirement on this fire authority to balance the budget. We have reserves but we can only use them once.

“Unless and until the government uplifts our grant, we are one of the worst affected fire services in the country, the situation is not going to get any better.

“To delay decisions will build up a larger financial issue to address with a much shorter time period. We will be cradling ourselves on a burning platform.

“We are not making a decision today and that decision will come post public consolation.”

Mark Stilwell, chair of the East Midlands FBU branch, said the report presented to the authority was “incomplete, misleading, dangerous and does not show the full impact of cuts”.

He said: “How is it that this fire authority can agree to further endanger the lives of the public and the safety of fire crews by removing even more resilience from an already stretched and struggling workforce.”

Steve Tucker, a serving firefighter at Worksop and chair of the FBU, added: “We have already felt the devastating effects of the cuts that have already been imposed on this service, which is why we applaud and support the proposal to revert Ashfield Fire Station to a wholetime station.

“However we do not, cannot and will not accept that the same flawed and failed model should be implemented at another station which does not even have the resilience of an on-call appliance to attempt to maintain any level of fire cover between the hours of 7pm and 8am.”

Councillor Steve Battlemuch (Lab) proposed an amendment to delay a decision for up to eight weeks, which came down to the casting vote of the chair, who voted against it.

He said: “We are talking about cuts that could lead to the loss of lives.”

Councillor Roger Upton (Con) said: “I am surprised at the proposal which proposes reducing two appliances within Nottingham city, given the number of high rise buildings and the number of new builds.

“That doesn’t seem right to me. Greater population and more housing, the demand is getting higher in the potential risk of fires and yet we are proposing a reduction in staffing and appliances.

“There has to be a better way in my opinion.”

Cllr Payne replied that he was “yet to hear a better way”.

Councillor Jason Zadrozny (Ind) said he thought the fire authority should meet with the new fire minister and MPs.

He added that the Independent Alliance would be “stepping up efforts to encourage people in Ashfield to have their say” on the plans.

Councillor Johno Lee added: “The public consultation is pointless, the Chief Fire Officer openly admitted it wouldn’t be supported.

“My question is how much money are we going to waste on a public consultation?

“It’s yet again wasted money.”

The changes will be the subject of a 12-week public consultation from Monday, September 26.

A final decision on the plans is expected in February 2023 and if approved after the public consultation, the changes will go ahead from April 2023.

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