‘Efficiency savings’ for Norfolk Fire Service mean cuts, warns city MP

Norfolk chief fire officer Roy Harold speaking at the public meeting on the future of Heacham Fire S

Norfolk chief fire officer Roy Harold speaking at the public meeting on the future of Heacham Fire Station. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The region's fire brigades are to be told to make further cuts after the home secretary announced she will take over responsibility for the lifesaving services nationally.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark Tillie

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark Tillie - Credit: photograph by mark tillie

Theresa May's 'relentless' determination to improve efficiency in fire and rescue services comes as fire stations in Norfolk and Suffolk are facing the axe as part of county council cuts.

The Norfolk County Council initial threat to up to 18 fire stations led to the creation of the EDP's Save Our Stations campaign in September, which then crossed the border to Suffolk after the station at Wrentham, near Lowestoft, was put under threat.

Her new responsibilities follow Mrs May pushing through controversial policing reforms and moves to allow police and crime commissioners in East Anglia to take over running fire brigades.

Mrs May said: 'I look at the fire and rescue service and I see the need for many of the same reforms that I started in policing five years ago: better local accountability, more transparency and a relentless focus on efficiency.

'I am also determined to properly kick-start the job of reform in fire.

'I am struck by the fact the fire and rescue service doesn't have an independent inspectorate and does not routinely publish data on performance. Local people need these things to hold their local public services to account. And, from my experience, fire has the same problems as policing in terms of poor procurement, ICT and management of buildings.'

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As part of a £100m budget-cutting process, Norfolk County Council is still investigating closing fire stations at Heacham and either West Walton or Outwell, near Wisbech.

In October, the council dropped a worst-case scenario £2.9m cut to the fire service, which might have led to the closure of 18 fire stations, leaving 11 under threat.

Labour Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: 'Efficiency savings mean cuts. When the Tories talk about efficiency savings, most people know that means cuts, and when you are talking about a service as essential as the fire service, that means more work, more stress, more pressure on fire crews and the resources they have which inevitably, I think, will put lives at risk.'

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: 'Before we start talking about any further changes to our fire service, we do need further information as to what these future plans may be.

'We need to know exactly how they will work and what the overall savings will be.'

In Suffolk, budget proposals could see Wrentham fire station close while one on-call engine could go in Lowestoft.

Are you organising an event in support of emergency services? Email anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk