THE Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has slammed claims by the county’s fire authority that multi-million pound cuts will not affect Berkshire’s frontline services.
According to the FBU, the Royal Berkshire fire authority last month agreed £2.6m worth of cuts over the next four years for the county’s fire service, following a 24 per cent cut in Government funding.
The FBU issued a statement which said that local firefighters had ridiculed the authority’s claim that frontline fire and rescue services will not be affected by a multi-million pound budget cut.
It added that firefighter numbers were already reduced as a result of a £2m cut on the wage bill since 2010 and that fire engines were now only staffed by four firefighters, severely reducing the ability to safely perform rescues.
Steve Collins, secretary of the FBU in Berkshire, said: “When you see in a few months’ time proposals from the fire authority to reduce its emergency response times target to house fires and road traffic collisions, please remember this occasion.
“It could be you waiting for that fire engine.”
Campaigners had called on the fire authority to agree a 1.75 per cent increase in council tax from April (2016) to safeguard frontline services, however the authority capped the recommendation at one per cent.
According to the FBU, the decision went against the advice of the authority’s chief fire officer – Andy Fry, who had recommended the 1.75 per cent increase, required to deliver, he said, an efficient and effective fire service.
As a Berkshire resident, Mr Collins said he would be happy to pay an extra 45p a year in council tax – less than a penny a week, to help offset the cuts from central government and “protect the life-saving service the people of Berkshire deserve.”
Chairperson of the fire authority’s budget working party, David Burbage, argued a one per cent increase in council tax would not result in any cuts to Berkshire’s frontline fire fighting capabilities.
And Colin Dudley, chairman of Royal Berkshire Fire Authority, said: “As elected representatives, we have a responsibility to set a budget which will ensure we are able to deliver our ambitious plans for constituents across Berkshire.
“In doing so, we must also be mindful of the financial impact associated with council tax increases.
“We believe the budget recently set by the Fire Authority strikes the right balance in this regard.”