Shropshire MPs and fire chief in call for more funding

A delegation of Shropshire MPs and the county's fire chief have raised their fears over budget cuts to the service with the government.

Shropshire MPs and fire chief in call for more funding

Philip Dunne, Daniel Kawczynski, Mark Pritchard and Owen Paterson were joined by chief fire officer John Redmond to argue the case at Westminster for fairer funding and urge top brass to take into account the extra costs in servicing Shropshire's rural communities.

Mr Dunne said: "This was the third meeting I had arranged for Shropshire fire chiefs with the fire minister Brandon Lewis to argue the case for fairer funding to take account of the costs of servicing rural communities in Shropshire.

"Brandon Lewis MP was very sympathetic about recognising the issues and needs faced in rural areas.

"It was a timely discussion ahead of the autumn statement next week and funding allocations due next month to fire authorities.

"I am hopeful there will be some further recognition of sparsity in the settlement and the opportunity for Shropshire Fire and Rescue to bid in to a transformation fund to help pay for innovative measures it is currently considering to boost efficiency even further."

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service says it recognises the need for cuts.

"But the news that a further £1.9 million must be saved by 2020 could mean the removal of appliances from major towns or closing up to four on-call fire stations, with Prees, Baschurch, Clun and Hodnet all under threat."

Today firefighters at Hodnet urged members of the public to have their say on the budget cuts on a special section set up on Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service's website.

Fire chiefs say the cuts would have a direct impact on attendance times with real concerns that more cuts will lead to the loss of lives.

Mr Dunne said SFRS had already taken many of the measures identified by Sir Ken Knight in his review of fire services to make it one of the best performing services in the country, including efficiency savings of £2.3 million since 2004/5.

He said: "Over the past 10 years it has also seen a 40 per cent drop in call outs, has one of the lowest cost management teams and has reduced operational headcount by 10 per cent.

"The service also now crew 80 per cent of its appliances with on call retained staff, and is collaborating with neighbouring fire services to achieve an efficient command and control structure."

Star comment:

There are a couple of important factors which make the latest round of budget cuts facing Shropshire Fire And Rescue Service feel grossly unfair.

Firstly, the authority has already made savings of £2.3 million since the UK-wide review in 2005, cutting its headcount by 10 per cent to make it one of the leanest, best performing branches in the country.

And secondly, the pressure which is now building on remote on-call fire stations such as Prees, Baschurch, Clun and Hodnet does not seem to take into account the geographical challenges faced by sprawling Shropshire, the largest land-locked county in Britain.

Let us hope that Fire Minister Brandon Lewis takes heed of the messages delivered by our understandably concerned Shropshire MPs.

Fire bosses recognise the need for cuts, but it does feel that the service in a rural county, which the majority of Westminster MPs will probably never have visited, is being expected to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the pain.

Shropshire Fire And Rescue Service is already collaborating with neighbouring counties and making up more than three quarters of its crews with retained, part time staff.

No-one wants to wait until a life is lost before the issue of adequate countywide cover is taken seriously.

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