£1.3m fire cuts will not cost lives says Northamptonshire’s council chief

Paul Blantern
Paul Blantern

The chief executive of cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council said moves to cut the fire service by £1.3 million this year will not cost lives despite union fears.

Before Christmas the county council announced plans to slash an unprecedented £77 million from its 2016/17 budget as a result of a massive reduction in the amount the authority receives from Westminster.

Recent figures suggest the total cuts figure will now be £82.9 million.

In an interview with the Chronicle & Echo yesterday chief executive Paul Blantern talked about the challenges faced at County Hall in response to the shock reaction from members of the public.

A total of £27 million will need to come out of the adult social care budget and £1.3 million will come from the fire and rescue service, in a move Fire Brigades Union member Sheldon Fenning said would put the public and firefighters at risk.

But Mr Blantern said: “I don’t agree with that simply because if we knew it was going to cost lives we wouldn’t do it.

“That would be the same as saying we cannot protect a child because we don’t have any money.

“I think it is really plain, no councillor would ever support anything that jeopardised people’s lives.”

He said the council has been working with the fire and rescue service to conduct a “significant service review” in recent years.

He added: “The fact is we still operate fire services very much in the way that has been the way they have been run for a number of years.

“But we know the numbers of fires in homes has drastically gone down because of our prevention work and also legislation on how new houses are a built - even down to changing what materials are used.

“We know that deaths in cars have gone down as well again because of car safety.

“We do a huge amount of work in first responding to medical emergencies and we now do combined work with police.

“What we are saying is, as an innovative council and an innovative fire and rescue service, what else can we do to modernise that service? How can we locate it in different places, reduce costs and actually improve effectiveness?”

Mr Blantern said that if he was not faced with having to make £82.9 million of cuts next year the review of fire services would have taken place over a long time.

Mr Fenning of the FBU said the £1.3 million equated to the cost of running five retained fire stations, or one full time station such as the Mounts for a year. The cuts will undoubtedly mean job losses in the county’s blue light service.

The council is also proposing to save £200,000 by reducing “emergency planning” activities.

And documents leaked to the Chron show that many people are worried about the effect the cuts might have.

One person responding to the council’s budget consultation, said: “If the budget is cut, this will directly relate to reduction in personnel, which will reduce effectiveness and increase the risks faced by the fire fighters due to their safe working practices having to alter.”

Another said: “If further cuts are made to emergency services the community will be put at risk. It only needs another 9/11 or 7/7 to happen - every town and city is vulnerable to terrorism now.”