Tyneside MPs raise concerns on fire service cuts

Concerns have been expressed by Tyneside MPs about how massive fire cuts will affect cover in the area

Police tape seals off the scene of a fire
Police tape seals off the scene of a fire

Concerns have been expressed by Tyneside MPs about how massive fire cuts will affect cover in the area.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service announced £8m in cuts earlier this week which will see it lose 131 jobs, close fire stations and operate with fewer fire engines.

Chief officer Tom Capeling admitted the cuts - which amount to more than 20% of the force’s budget - could put lives at risk by reducing the amount of fire prevention work and increasing response times.

Yesterday Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns said: “I think the chief fire officer is absolutely right and the warnings coming from the firefighters on the ground are also very much a concern. I think if you think of an area like Tyne and Wear, the loss of so many firefighters on the ground and possible loss of fire stations, there is no doubt of the risk.

“But also it is not just about response times but also the number of firefighters attending incidents. If you have less staff to attend an incident that calls into question how much support the firefighters on the ground have in order to deal with a situation and elements of safety from their perspective and the public which is of primary importance.

“I think the big picture is that David Cameron has kept one element of his election promises, that he was going to massively reduce the North East’s share of public expenditure, and he is doing that.”

Tynemouth MP Alan Campbell added: “The blame for this lies firmly with the Government whose cuts have hit metropolitan areas, particularly in the North, the hardest.

“The fire authority has worked hard to protect frontline services but these cuts risk going beyond what is safe. A lot of the good work which firefighters have done to date is now being put at risk and businesses and households in my constituency risk paying the price for draconian cuts made by this Government.”

And Catherine McKinnell, of Newcastle North, said: “Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is an impressive force, with the fastest response times in the country despite having some of busiest stations.”

“However I share concerns about the disproportionate impact of the budget reductions to services in metropolitan areas, such as our own. Between 2010 and 2017 Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service will have seen a 23% deduction to their budget.

“These reductions place the service in an unenviable position, leading to a further 131 job losses and an acknowledgment that it will affect the frontline of the service.

“What we don’t want to see is community outreach programs coming under pressure as a result of these changes. In recent years we have seen a huge reduction in fire related incidents due in large part to the prevention and educational outreach efforts that have been made.”

Earlier this year, it was warned that cross-boundary work between the Tyne and Wear force and its counterparts in Northumberland and County Durham would be put at risk by any large budget cuts.

The Tyne and Wear force has managed to reduce the number of accidental house fires by 19% in the last 12 months, but fire prevention projects in the area are also at risk under the proposed budget cuts.

Mr Capeling has previously said that cuts to the service have been “unbalanced and unfair” after he was forced to cope with reductions more than twice that in some other parts of the country.

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