MP Catherine McKinnell hits out over Tyne and Wear Fire Service cuts

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell has hit out at Fire Service Minister Brandon Lewis over his comments about Tyne and Wear Fire Service

MP Catherine McKinnell
MP Catherine McKinnell

A second city MP has challenged the Government over fire cuts in the North.

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell has written to the Fire Service Minister, Brandon Lewis, after he said that Tyne and Wear Fire Service - which is facing budget cuts of 23% over the next seven years - was to blame for shutting fire stations and instituting job cuts.

Mr Lewis, who was responding to a question in the House of Commons from Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, said the brigade should use its reserves to bridge its funding gap and had wasted money on a training facility.

But Mrs McKinnell said Tyne and Wear was facing “disproportionate” cuts compared to the rest of the country and that Mr Lewis was out of touch with the North East.

She said: “Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is clearly facing significant cuts, with very serious implications for the service it provides in the future. I firmly believe that the scale of these cuts, and consequent loss of firefighter posts and station closures, is unfair, disproportionate and will put people’s lives at risk.

“However, it’s deeply concerning that the Minister with responsibility for this critical issue could be so ill-informed. Not only does he appear oblivious to the scale of cut actually faced by Tyne and Wear – he claims the local fire service is spending money where it is not. This is typical of a Government and Ministers who appear to have absolutely no awareness of the impact of their spending decisions on the North East.”

Tyne and Wear Fire Service service expects to lose £12.9m by April 2017 and claims it is “disproportionately” hurt by the cuts because its council tax takings are lower.

It is planning to close fire stations in Gosforth, Wallsend and Sunderland, lose six fire engines and cut 131 staff, though some of those cuts have been put on hold in the short term after it dipped into reserves.

In the Commons, Mr Lewis said that “this body has had a cut of a couple of per cent in spending power for each of the past couple of years and has built up its reserves. It has been able to spend that on extra training facilities when the Government already have a training facility.”

But it has since emerged that the service’s training facility was built 18 years ago and the brigade still has to send some of its staff to the national training centre in Gloucestershire.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “In the last decade there has been a 40% reduction in call outs and incidents. Deaths from fires in the home are now at an all-time low, yet expenditure has remained broadly the same.

“Every bit of the public sector needs to play its part to cut the deficit. There is significant scope for fire and rescue authorities to make sensible savings, such as through reforms to flexible staffing and crewing arrangements, better procurement, shared services including sharing of senior staff and operational collaborations. These can be done without impacting on the quality of services offered to communities.”

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