Tories Ignore Safety Concerns over Cuts to Fire Service
Thanks the work of the Leicestershire Lib Dems in calling an Extraordinary Meeting of the County Council to Scrutinise the proposed cuts to the Fire Service, the Tories responded with a promise that the Scrutiny Commission would be permitted to invite witnesses in to discuss the evidence and then draw conclusions.
The meeting started on Wednesday 4th November but there was so much to get through that a further session was required on Monday 9th to complete it. You can watch a recording of the Wednesday session here, watch the Monday session here, and read a copy of the minutes here.
The meeting invited officers from the CFA to make their case for the cuts and then allowed union representatives and a group of retired fire officers to set out their concerns. These concerns ranged from complaints about how the consultation had been carried out, to concerns on whether a slimmed down Fire Service would be able to keep residents safe. CFA officers, for example, accepted that they would not be able to meet the 10 minute response time target in the event of a house fire in Billesdon.
Based on these concerns, the Liberal Democrat and Labour members of the committee proposed a joint motion that took account of these concerns and would ask the CFA to address them.
The Tories on the Scrutiny Commission disagreed, voting down the motion and instead proposing their own that ignored the concerns being presented. We feel that with the importance of the Fire Service to the City and County, and the tragic consequences that could occur should these cuts prevent life saving action in an emergency, that ignoring these concerns was grossly irresponsible.
The Labour and Liberal Democrat Motion:
That the Cabinet be advised as follows:-
1. That the Commission finds that the scale of cuts outlined in the proposals present an unnecessary and unacceptable risk to the operational performance of the Combined Fire Authority and that this view is based on evidence that points to:-
(a) A lack of clarity or confidence in the CFA's ability to remove surplus staff that is contributing to over half of its projected deficit with no plausible plan in place to tackle this as a matter of urgency thereby inflating the problem and creating a real risk that further cost savings attributable to redundancies would not come to fruition;
(b) Opportunities that exist to explore alternative cost reduction proposals that might alleviate the need for the scale of cuts proposed, including but not limited to:
(i) Greater use of retained firefighters;
(ii) Extending the 'life' of existing vehicles;
(iii) Greater collaborative working with local and regional emergency services;
(iv) Various 'cheaper' staff proposals;
(v) The sale or lease of the Birstall Headquarters and to decamp to Central Fire Station or another existing building;
(vi) More appropriate use of Tactical Response Vehicles.
(c) Weaknesses and lack of openness in the modelling of response times which provides real concern at the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service's ability to respond in a timely manner with the weight of response required;
(d) The process of putting together the IRMP being very exclusive, relying heavily on senior officers and failing to draw on the wide experience within the LFRS;
(e) The consultation being too narrow in its content, having failed to properly contact key stakeholders within and immediately outside the area, being inadequately signposted to the public thereby restricting access to those with internet access and as such not being undertaken in accordance with the 'Gunning principles'.
2. The Commission therefore urges the Cabinet to:-
(a) Oppose the proposals and seek an urgent review of alternative cost reduction options to reduce the scale of cuts required from frontline services and for this review to be more inclusive of officers within the CFA;
(b) Seek from the CFA a clear plan for the early delivery of the resource reduction required to deliver the £1.3million overdue savings;
(c) Request the CFA to carry out a full and transparent audit of its incident response times including the measurement of appropriate 'weight of response times';
(d) Request the CFA to commission an "external audit" of future proposals;
(e) Note that the lack of a scrutiny process within the CFA has impacted negatively on the quality of debate and to recommend that the CFA reviews its scrutiny process.
The Conservative Motion:
That the Cabinet be advised as follows:-
1. That the Commission has noted the concerns expressed by the Fire Brigades Union, the Retained Firefighters Union, retired members of the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service and others about the potential impact of these proposals;
2. That the members of the Council and the Scrutiny Commission has received a detailed presentation from the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and his colleagues on the consultation proposal and would wish to draw the following matters to the Cabinet:-
(i) That there are significant financial pressures on the Combined Fire Authority (CFA) and the consultation proposals should be seen in that context;
(ii) That the consultation proposals should be seen in the context of a 42% reduction in emergency incident rates in the last 10 years;
(iii) That the proposals now outlined by the CFO represent his and his management team's professional assessment of the best use of reduced resources to deal with risk;
(iv) That whilst the CFA previously disestablished 101 operational posts financial provision continues to be made for these posts in the absence of an agreement with the trade unions as to a way forward, a situation which cannot be allowed to continue;
(v) That the CFA is pressing ahead with proposals for reducing its costs by engaging in shared service agreements and exploring a range of uses by other organisations of office space at its Headquarters.