Loss of firefighter jobs will 'put public at risk'
8:40am Tuesday 1st May 2012
THE looming loss of hundreds of firefighter jobs across the North-East will put lives at risk, the Government was warned yesterday.
Deep cuts to Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) budgets will hit Cleveland, County Durham and Tyne and Wear the hardest, ministers were told.
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham led the protests, warning that 180 jobs were at risk in Cleveland, despite the fire service guarding the highest industrial risk area in Europe.
He told MPs: “The Government is playing with people’s lives. I’d like to know what the minister’s message is to people in my communities and who he’ll blame when there is a tragedy there.”
Meanwhile, Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, said 40 jobs were threatened at County Durham and Darlington FRS and Bridget Phillipson, the Houghton and Sunderland South MP, said Tyne and Wear had also been hit hard.
Chris Williamson, Labour’s fire spokesman, said: “Across the country, thousands of firefighter jobs are being lost and dozens of fire stations are closing. The public is being put at risk.”
Referring to David Cameron’s pre-election pledge to veto frontline service cuts, Mr Williamson added: “Is this another broken election pledge by the Prime Minister?”
But Bob O’Neill, the fire services minister, hit back, insisting funding had been maintained in County Durham and in Tyne and Wear – at £29-per-head – was among the highest in the country.
On Cleveland, the minister said: “The risk it deals with is recognised by its funding-per-head being among the highest in the country and two times what it is in other areas.”
Mr O’Neill also turned on Labour for wasting £400m-plus on aborted plans to replace 46 fire control rooms with nine regional centres.
The FiReControl project turned into one of the most embarrassing IT disasters of Labour’s period in office, running massively over-budget and suffering endless delays.
But, speaking after the debate, Mr Cunningham stepped up his criticism of the Government, saying: “The funding formula fails to recognise the potential dangers posed by the industrial base.
“The minister also failed to own up the fact that the Cleveland Fire Service has suffered a cut of nearly a quarter of its budget, and that means we lose firefighters.”
Last month, the Fire Brigades Union protested at Westminster over what it warned were £6.6m cuts, this year alone, to fire services in Cleveland, Durham and Darlington, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
Meanwhile, North Yorkshire FRS, based in Northallerton, is consulted on plans to reduce control room staff numbers by about 20 per cent, saving £400,000 per year and £2.5m by 2015.