Public gets a say on proposed fire service cuts at Ipswich meeting
20:05 14 January 2016
Members of the public have had their say on proposed changes to the Suffolk Fire Service at an open meeting in Ipswich – although the appalling weather put off all but the hardiest people.
The meeting, at the county council’s Endeavour House headquarters in Russell Road, gave chief fire officer Mark Hardingham and cabinet member Matthew Hicks the chance to explain the proposals.
Many of those at the meeting were firefighters from the nearby Princes Street fire station which faces the prospect of losing two of its three fire appliances and one of its two full-time fire crews.
Mr Hicks said the Suffolk fire service was held in high regard both locally and nationally – but savings had to be made as part of the county council’s budget reduction measures.
The fire service had been protected from cuts the government had recommended in earlier years – during the current year it was losing £400,000 rather than the £900,000 cut that had been made in its government grant.
However it was necessary to make £1.3m cuts in its £22m budget next year, about 6% of its budget.
He said this was set against a fall of 26% in the number of emergency calls in the last five years, despite a growth in the population and the number of properties in Suffolk.
Mr Hardingham said the fire service needed to evolve, but some radical changes had been rejected: “When we moved Colchester Road fire crews to East Ipswich we had considered moving Princes Street to the west of the town – to Whitton or Whitehouse.
“We looked at that but felt it would not be right, so we are now looking at refurbishing Princes Street or finding a new town centre station and share it with other blue light services (fire and ambulance).”
The proposal to cut Princes Street from three to one fire appliance is the most controversial element of the changes, certainly in the Ipswich area, and Roy Humphreys from the Fire Brigades Union was not impressed by the proposal.
He said: “This is all being discussed as part of the risk management plan. Where is the look at the risks of cutting the number of fire appliances in Ipswich by half?”
The meeting at Ipswich was one of a number that have been organised across the county in the run-up to the closure of the consultation period for the fire service review towards the end of next month.
Details of further meetings can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/emergency-and-rescue/fire-service-redesign/
A final decision on the future of Suffolk Fire Service is expected to be taken by the county council’s cabinet at its meeting in May.