Norfolk chief’s view of how cuts will hit the fire service

Norfolk's chief fire officer said the service may have to shift from being a Rolls-Royce to a Mondeo when it comes to buying in new equipment as it looks at budget cuts of nearly �4m in the next three years.

Nigel Williams said the service had already saved �1.5m in a shake-up as part its new safety plan which would see a reduction in cover.

But the department still needed to find savings of around �2.5m, while a recent 9pc rise in fuel costs had added �50,000 to the service's diesel bill.

Yesterday, members of the council's fire and rescue overview and scrutiny panel considered responses to the Big Consultation proposals.

Mr Williams said that ideas to emerge so far included sharing facilities with the police and ambulance service, and letting the council have access to the service's 24-hour call centre facility.

The service would also be reviewing the procedures for attending false alarm calls, but the service would continue automatically to go to fires where there were vulnerable people present.

Mr Williams said Norfolk Constabulary had expressed an interest in fire maintenance staff carrying out MOTs on police vehicles in a bid to cut costs, and fire stations could also be used as a satellite for staff such as social workers.

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And he would like to find a way the service could help schemes facing funding cuts including the Prince's Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme as youth service played a vital part in preventative work.

And with 12 staff likely to lose their jobs in the next three years, existing firefighters would be asked to cover any gaps in shifts.

'Over the next two to four years, we should be looking at teasing out about 30pc of our revenue budget to make the savings,' Mr Williams said. 'Instead of being a Rolls-Royce, some parts of our equipment may have to be a Mondeo. We will be looking at equipment and whether that's fit for purpose, and looking at reducing travel and transport costs.

'I am happy to look at everything we can do to exploit the facilities we have got, but not at the expense of the operations.

'We are talking to the police and the ambulance service this month to start the process of how we can work together.

'The police are interested in whether our maintenance crews are capable of undertaking MOTs and if so they would like to put their vehicles through the fire service.'

He added that with superstore giant Tesco agreeing to build a new fire station at Sheringham, there could be an opportunity to tweak the plans so that a new facility could be shared with other emergency services.

And the service was looking at saving money by turning down the heating.

Lib Dem councillor David Callaby said Norfolk was the lowest funded fire service in the country and he suggested the council should send a cross party delegation to lobby fire minister Bob Neill about the issue.

'It's going to cut the fire service not just to the flesh but to the bone and I am very aware that this is not a very good place for us to be,' Mr Callaby said. 'I think we have got a good story to tell but we need a bit of leeway as far as this council is concerned.'

Committee chairman Richard Rockcliffe said: 'The strong message to take back is the issue of the facilities and how we can help children's services and young people.'