Authority approves fire service change proposals
Proposals put forward by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to deal with an expected £10 million cut in government funding have been approved by the fire authority.
The plans will see a new full-time fire station near to the Sheffield Parkway to replace Darnall and Mansfield Road fire stations, and a new full-time fire station at Birley to improve cover in south-east Sheffield and enable the closure of the part-time fire station at Mosborough.
The proposals include the removal of the part-time crews at Edlington and Royston, meaning Royston Fire Station will close on December 31, 2012.
Two 'roving pumps' which are surplus to requirements will be removed from Elm Lane and Mansfield Road over the next month, with a small incidents unit to be introduced at Elm Lane at the same time. The roving pump based at Darnall will be removed in March 2013.
The changes are necessary, says the FRS, in order to cope with a cut in funding that has already seen SYFR lose £4.7m in government grants − a figure that is likely to reach £10m by 2015.
Chair of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Cllr Jim Andrews, said: "We don't want to make these changes but we have no other option faced with such a huge reduction in our budget.
"We firmly believe that the proposals approved today will help us achieve the necessary savings whilst having the minimum impact on fire cover.
"However, we are still in an uncertain position because the government won't tell us what our grant reduction will be after 2013. Our medium term annual budget could vary by up to £6m, depending on the size of the cut, so we need to keep our reserves to plan for the worst."
SYFR has already made cuts of 25 per cent to management and back office costs to help protect frontline services, but they will save less than £3m − a fraction of the £10m expected overall Government grant cut.
Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney said: "As professional officers we have carried out extensive research into how we can make the necessary savings whilst having the least impact on the service we provide to people in South Yorkshire.
"It is impossible to take millions of pounds out of a budget without affecting service delivery, but these changes will help us cope with the budget reduction whilst minimising the impact on emergency fire cover.
"We put these proposals out to public consultation, but none of the sixteen alternative proposals we received provided both the necessary level of emergency fire cover with the same level of savings."
The full list of proposals approved by the fire authority is as follows:
A new full-time fire station near to the Sheffield Parkway, to replace Darnall and Mansfield Road fire stations (Sheffield), and a new full-time fire station at Birley, to improve cover in south-east Sheffield, and enable the closure of the part-time fire station at Mosborough - implementation in around 2015
Removal of the retained duty system crews at Edlington (Doncaster) and Royston (Barnsley) implementation − Edlington crew to be removed as soon as possible. Royston Fire Station to close in December 2012
Removal of three countywide 'roving pump' fire engines that were used to support firefighter training but are no longer needed - implementation at Elm Lane and Mansfield Road in the next month, at Darnall in March 2013. Small Incidents Unit to begin at Elm Lane as soon as possible
Changing the firefighter crewing system at up to six existing stations, starting with Lowedges, with no effect on emergency response times. The 'Close Proximity Crewing' model will save £400,000 per station, per year - implementation in 2013
A list of FAQ's in relation to the service change proposals are listed below.
Why do you have to make any changes to frontline services?
The vast majority of the authority's spending goes on frontline services, or vital support equipment such as fire stations and fire engines. Around 60% of the budget goes on firefighter pay costs. No significant reductions in the budget can be made without reducing the number of firefighters we employ
What have you done to try to protect the frontline?
As soon as the budget cuts were announced, we decided to reduce management and 'back office' costs by 25% by 2014 - but this will save less than £3m. We have already lost £4.7m in Government grants, and expect the total grant reduction to be around £10m by 2015
Why have you just appointed a new Chief Fire Officer on high wages? Will you be back-filling the other directors' roles?
When the previous Chief Fire Officer retired in April 2011, the authority took the opportunity to reduce the principal officer team from 5 to 4, saving around £300,000 in total. An important public service needs skilled and experienced leadership and we believe our principal officer structure is appropriate for our organisation. We have benchmarked against other comparable authorities and the size of our team and our pay structure is at the lower end of the scale.
Why can't you find more savings from support staff?
Around 40 out of 225 support staff posts have been removed over the last two years. Support staff play a vital role in supporting the service, whether that is in community fire safety work, paying wages and bills, or servicing vehicles to keep them on the road. The entire support staff budget is around £6.5m so, even if we removed every single member of support staff and didn't pay anyone else to outsource this vital work, we would not achieve the savings of around £10m which we believe will be needed.
What have you done to share services?
Many discussions have been held with partners at other fire and rescue services, police and local authorities, with an aim to sharing services where possible. A report which outlines this work was submitted to the authority in February and can be viewed on our website. We are keen to share services where possible but it must be remembered that to do so you need a partner who is willing to share with you, and it is important to ensure that a sharing arrangement continues to deliver the necessary services for both organisations.
You've underspent by £2m this year. Why do you need to make cuts now?
A number of issues have resulted in an underspend this year, including a higher-than-expected number of firefighter leavers, and the reduction in management and support staff being implemented early. In addition, budget managers have been aware of the forthcoming financial shortfalls and have been prudent in making efficiency savings where possible
But you've put up Council Tax and will be in surplus next year. And you have £15m in reserves.
The problem is that after next year, due to the expected level of Government cuts, we will be in deficit. In our worst-case planning scenario, the deficit could be £4m in 2013/14, and £6m in 2014/15 and 2015/16 - if this was the case, our reserves will be entirely accounted for.
What are you planning to use the reserves for?
It is planned to use the reserves to phase in changes, as firefighters leave through natural wastage such as retirement, instead of having to make significant changes all at once - the latter option would be likely to require us to need to recruit firefighters soon to cover people who are leaving, with the possibility of having to make redundancies later on. Because we want to make changes through natural wastage as firefighters leave, we need the reserves to enable us to continue to pay them after the 2013-15 government cuts begin
How do you know you need to cut by £10m? The government hasn't announced its cuts for 2013-15 yet
This is one of the key problems in setting our medium-term budget and planning our future - the government won't tell us until December 2012 what the budget cut will be. However, we lost £4.7m in 2011-13, and have been told to expect a higher cut in 2013-15, so we feel a total cut of around £10m is a reasonable assumption
So why don't you wait until the government has confirmed the funding cut, and make changes then?
There are a number of reasons. Our staffing levels are getting lower all the time due to firefighters leaving and not being replaced, and this situation needs to be addressed quickly. Some of the other proposals need a significant amount of planning - for example, the proposals to build new fire stations need at least a three-year lead-in time to acquire the land, get planning permission, and build the station. If all our current cost-savings proposals are added together, they still save less than £7m, so it is highly likely that all our current proposals will need to be implemented as a minimum.
Have you listened to feedback the public?
Yes, there was a 14-week public consultation period, and 16 alternative proposals were submitted. These ranged from different station locations to putting up Council Tax to cover the Government cut. However, none of the sixteen alternative proposals received provided both the necessary level of emergency fire cover with the same level of savings.
What are you doing to lobby against the government cuts?
The Authority Chair and Chief Fire Officer have visited the Fire Minister on several occasions to make our case. The Metropolitan Fire Authorities have also combined to make a joint representation, which led to an MPs' debate in Parliament in March. This lobbying work is ongoing.
Photo: Chief Fire Officer Jamie Courtney
Posted April 3rd, 2012 at 1330 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: email@example.com