This past month or so I have had the opportunity to look closely at the cost saving proposals put forth by Humberside Fire and Rescue Service in their Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP), and have twice heard presentations from both Humberside Fire and Rescue Service and the Regional Fire Brigades Union.
The Government has made it clear that the cuts in public spending following the Comprehensive Spending Review should not, where possible, reduce front line services but rather that savings should be made through further partnership working, cutting back office support, curbing excessive spending and eradicating economic wastage.
In the introduction to the Humberside Fire and Rescue Strategic Plan for the years 2011 - 2014, it states that to meet the economic challenges ahead, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service would need to be flexible and adaptable to the rapidly changing public services environment which could “include exploring opportunities to improve efficiencies through increased sharing, collaboration or integration of support functions, premises and other services and assets.”
Unfortunately I feel that the proposals in the IRMP do not reflect this statement nor provide any evidence that this approach had been explored. I cannot reconcile the aims of the Strategic Plan with the proposals in the IRMP and I am very disappointed that other, alternative measures have not been fully explored. Here I support the Government and believe there has to be a greater emphasis on the Fire and Rescue Service working closer together with the other public services, and I would have liked to have seen cost savings achieved by sharing such things as, vehicle maintenance, IT systems, call handling, legal and secretarial support service, community engagement and procurement. There is very little evidence that any of this has been considered before producing the IRMP.
I do understand the financial pressures faced by Humberside Fire and Rescue Service over the coming years, however, as the reduction to the Central Government grant was not as austere as first expected, I certainly feel that the proposals put forth in the IRMP are harsh and have focused unnecessarily on reducing front line services, rather than protecting them.
Quite simply reductions to front line services could have been offset by reducing non-operational officers and by exploring partnership arrangements with other public services.
In view of the scrapping of the plans for a Regional Call Centre in West Yorkshire, I feel that the planned proposals in moving towards further regionalisation of Humberside Fire and Rescue Service in the future is somewhat irrational. It is essential that the Fire and Rescue Service look at improved localised partnership working, as stated in the Strategic Plan.
In conclusion, I strongly oppose the general thrust of the proposals put forward in the IRMP, particularly when it means cutting front line services and specifically the plans for the reduction Fire Appliance crewing down from 5 fire-fighters down to 4, and the changing of the crewing arrangements for specialist appliances.
But I can accept the proposals for changes to the Command Unit crewing and technical rescue fire station crewing arrangements, and also changes to the Operational Command to give a more flexible duty system.
I can also support the introduction of Small Fires Units as any addition to the front line service, but am a little disappointed that one of these Small Fires Units would not be based in Goole. Here I must stress that I would not like to see the Small Fire Units replacing the second response fire engine.
Finally, and following a Freedom of Information request which indicated that over a 6 month period there were over 200 occasions when the Snaith and Howden fire stations could not raise a retained duty crew and thus attend an emergency call - I fully support the review of the retained duty contracts to increase the availability of fire engines, as the current arrangement were all retained duty staff have contracts offering cover in fixed bands of hours do not always give flexibility to meet personal circumstances.
To read the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service Stategic Plan and their Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for the years 2011 - 2014, and to also complete the online consultation please click here