The head of West Midlands fire service issued a blunt warning that spending cuts will put lives at risk, as he met MPs in Westminster to call for a fairer funding settlement.
Vij Randeniya, Chief Fire Officer for the West Midlands Fire Service, said he accepted the need for spending cuts, but urged ministers to scrap a complex funding formula which meant brigades in major urban areas such as the West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester suffered massive cuts – while some fire services actually enjoyed an increase in the grant from central government.
West Midlands Fire Service would be forced to close 11 fire stations and lose 300 staff, on top of the 300 posts it had already abolished, unless a fairer system was introduced, he said.
And he warned: “People will definitely be at much more risk and our ability to respond in the way we currently do will be severely disrupted, so therefore will have an increased chance of losing their life or suffering injury.”
Mr Randeniya was giving evidence to the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, which is holding an inquiry into fire service funding.
But Local Government Minister Bob Neill, questioned by the Committee, said he could not promise to make any changes.
He blamed the previous Labour government for drawing up the funding formula, which the coalition has inherited – and admitted he was “surprised” when urban fire services were hit by the biggest cuts.
But although backbench MPs sitting on the Committee pointed out that the Coalition Government wasn’t obliged to accept a formula used by the last government, he refused to promise any changes.
The inquiry follows a central government cut in funding for fire services across the country of around six per cent in 2010 to 2013.
Instead of cutting grants for every brigade by an equal percentage, Ministers used a complex formula to determine which services should be hit.
It meant West Midlands Fire Service had its grant cut by 12.5 per cent while other services had much smaller cuts or even, in a few cases, actually received small increases in their grants.
The Treasury plans to make further cuts for 2013 to 2015. If the same formula is used, it would mean West Midlands Fire Service lost around 27 per cent of its funding from central government.
But the service is urging the Government to scrap the formula and give every fire brigade the same cut, which would mean losing around 13.5 per cent of central government funding.
Mr Randeniya told the MPs: “We understand the need for deficit reduction. We are not asking for any more funding, we are asking for a fair, flat rate cut for all fire and rescue services.”
He added: “We’ve been looking at, with the current level of cuts in years one or two, about 314 firefighter jobs. We can just about deal with that.
“If it comes in, in the way the formula was originally planned, we will lose 600 firefighters, that’s a third of our entire operational workforce.”
The service had already made savings, including replacing 60 fire engines with smaller vehicles, he said.
But if it received a 27 per cent budget cut as feared, it would need to close 11 fire stations, he said.