Fire leaders are meeting to discuss authority mergers, staff reorganisation, redundancies and outsourcing services as they battle swathing funding cuts.
With fire and rescue services facing a 25% budget reduction from government -equivalent to employing about 7,500 firefighters or keeping more than 190 urban stations running for a year - radical reform is needed to make sure lives are not put at risk, fire authority chairman and chief officers are warning.
Though Whitehall last year announced the £275 million savings would be back-loaded over four years, the reality for some city authorities is having to shave up to 9.5 per cent off their budget in year one.
The Local Government Association started its two-day annual Fire Conference, March 8, which will be attended by a government minister, fire authority chairs and chief officers, top councillors and leading lights in the fire industry.
Top of the agenda will be how these huge savings could be made through new approaches to staffing, sickness management, shared services, back office functions and reducing management, and outsourcing, without cutting the essential services people's lives depend on.
Cllr Brian Coleman, Chairman of the LGA's Fire Services Management Committee, said: "Tackling these cuts is no easy task. Many authorities have already made substantial efficiencies in recent years and making further savings without impacting on the frontline will be difficult. Nor is the pain of these cuts spread evenly and some authorities face much tougher years ahead than others.
"However, we will not simply call for more money. To keep protecting the millions of people who rely on us we must continue striving to find bold and imaginative ways of doing things.
"Along with changes to the way the organisation works and a more flexible workforce, we need to really focus on getting the best value out of every pound. This means everything needs to be on the table, including mergers of fire services, getting the best out of working with other emergency services and even outsourcing some of the services we deliver.
"Many authorities are already reporting back on big savings made through staff and equipment shake-ups which we can all learn from. Now is the time for radical change and fresh thinking in the fire world."
A new report is being released at the conference which details pioneering ways in which fire authorities across the country are making savings.
For more information on the conference, visit: http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/events/display-event.do?id=12772244
Posted: 09.31am, 09.03.11