MP warns fire cuts will lead to deaths

South Yorkshire MP John Healey said he was giving the Government their “final warning” that if planned fire cuts go ahead “more people will die.”

He was speaking at a debate yesterday on fire and rescue funding, which follows months of campaigning for a fairer settlement for the six Metropolitan fire areas, including South Yorkshire.

Mr Healey said MPs representing the Met areas were angered by the deep cuts in 2011 and 2012 which were “unfair, unequal and hard to justify.”

At the same time richer, rural counties had their funding increased as a new funding formula advantaged areas able to raise more in council tax.

Mr Healey added: “The situation that we faced in these first two years was indefensible. While six authorities were wondering how to spend the extra cash they had, the six Metropolitan areas were working out how to cut 1,258 full-time firefighters, 69 retained firefighters and more than 550 other staff.

“In South Yorkshire alone, we have to cut one in seven of our full-time firefighters.”

Mr Healey supports the Met fire chiefs’ argument that for 2013-2015 there should be a flat-rate cut across the country, like the police.

He said the brigades bearing the heaviest burden of the cuts were in the poorest and urban areas with the highest number and biggest risk of fires.

“If the pattern of years one and two is repeated in years three and four, our areas together will be looking at axing an extra 1,000 firefighters, 150 extra staff and another 40 fire engines.

“In the past nine months, we have given the Government fair warning, and the Minister should take this as a final warning.

“If the cuts fall in the same way, so deeply and so unfairly in the Metropolitan areas, there will be fewer firefighters, fire engines and fire stations. Bluntly, more people will die.”

Speaking for the Government, Mark Prisk MP said a consultation was under way on local government funding, which is relevant to fire and rescue authority funding, and that the Government would listen carefully to representations.

So far the Mets have faced an average cut of more than 12%, nearly twice the national average.

The further cut to 2015 could be as much as 27% – equalling £21.8m for West Midlands, £16.7m for Greater Manchester, £13.4m for West Yorkshire, £11m for Merseyside, £8.6m for Tyne and Wear and £8.1m for South Yorkshire.

In a briefing to MPs, the Met chiefs warn 1,000 more firefighters would be made redundant, stations would close, appliances would be lost, response times, deaths and injuries would increase, prevention programmes would be cut and it would jeopardise the country’s ability and capacity to deal with major incidents because of the significant contribution the Met brigades make to national resilience.

They are arguing that if the government are intent on a cut it should be equal across the country, around 13.5% for each service.