Grant Davey asks Fire Minister for more money
A council leader has demanded more money for fire services as consultation over the closure of a rural station reaches its end.
In a letter to the Home Office Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council, has asked Mike Penning MP to “properly finance” Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service so planned cuts to services, like the proposed closure of Haydon Bridge Fire Station, can be avoided.
A £500,000 savings plan, under public consultation until February 15, would see the station closed, an engine cut at West Hartford and those in Alnwick, Wooler, Seahouses and Ponteland replaced with smaller vehicles.
The cuts have been bitterly contested by local people, with more than 5,000 signing a petition organised by the Fire Brigades Union.
Control of fire service funding was passed from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to the Home Office earlier this month.
Coun Davey wrote: “As a local authority that is currently consulting on service cuts in line with the DCLG financial package we need to know what this change means both to Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) and to the people of the county who are campaigning to keep their community fire stations open.
“Council cutbacks from DCLG have forced us as a unitary authority to find additional revenue support from council reserves since 2013 to keep up staffing and property levels for the service.
“The ability to continue that level of support is no longer available and we find ourselves in a consultation period in order to drive forward council thinking on revenue - the money which pays for service delivery - to either make cutbacks in the fire and rescue service or cutback other essential services.”
A fire engine makes its way through Lanchester.
Coun Davey asked Mr Penning whether more money would be made “immediately available” by the Home Office to stop the closure of Haydon Bridge.
He added: “Or does it mean that they will expect the council to pass this service between Government departments in a cut down manner?
“Or does the move to the Home office mean that, like the police, fire and rescue services are no longer subject to the latest round of DCLG cuts in budget, which the Chancellor highlighted in the Autumn Statement?”
Guy Tiffin, Northumberland secretary for the Fire Brigades Union, added his support to the letter.
He said: “Unfortunately the battle is against the county council, but these cuts are the result of the austerity measures put in place by the government.
“Unless the government changes the way they fund the fire service then we are going to be in line for more cuts, not just this year but in future years too.”
Conservative councillors have criticised Mr Davey’s administration for ordering fire service cuts while planning to spend £38.54m on a new headquarters in Ashington.
James Ian Hutchinson, councillor for Haltwhistle, said: “All councils have had cuts, but that was to get the country back on its feet after it was left with a huge amount of debt.
“Regarding the fire station cuts I hope the cabinet will make a decision based on what local people feel.”