Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue faces £5.5m budget cut

Proposals aiming to save the fire service £5.5m have been approved by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority.

Eleven measures needed to cut costs were passed at a meeting earlier in response to a drop in funding from central government.

The package will now be subject to a 12-week public consultation.

"These are difficult times and difficult decisions need to be made," said chief fire officer Lee Howell.

'Sense of anger'

"The proposals that have been agreed for public consultation today do not require closure of fire stations, removal of fire engines or compulsory redundancies.

"We aim to maintain or improve public safety by changing the way we do business and by crewing some fire engines differently."

But Tam McFarlane, from the Fire Brigades Union, said there was "a very real sense of anger" among members over the decision.

"Rather than just accepting enormous budget cuts the fire authority should be telling the government that they are totally unacceptable," he said.

"It was only a few weeks ago that firefighters were working day and night performing rescues during the biggest floods in living memory.

"It should have been obvious then that we were stretched to the limit but now, just a few weeks later we are facing massive frontline cuts."

Closures 'not wanted'

Cost-cutting measures include implementing changes in how the service responds to automatic fire alarms, reducing the number of middle/senior managers and reducing support staff by at least 5% by not renewing some fixed-term contracts.

Conservative councillor Mark Healey, authority chairman, said he will lobby government to get "a better grant settlement next time".

"We will now be keen to listen to staff and the public but whatever the outcome of the consultation, we still will need to save £5.5m," he said.

"Closing fire stations is not where we want to be."

The authority has said its government grant has been reduced by 10.3% in 2013 and will fall a further 7.3% in 2014.

The reduction means a budget cut of £3.4m in the next financial year and a further £2.1m the following year.

The consultation period will start on 28 January and end on 22 April.

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