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Worst case scenario Norfolk cuts would see more than 200 firefighters axed

PUBLISHED: 13:11 02 September 2015 | UPDATED: 08:24 03 September 2015

Oulton Hall fire. Picture: Norfolk Fire Service/Brian Walshe

Oulton Hall fire. Picture: Norfolk Fire Service/Brian Walshe

Norfolk Fire Service/Brian Walshe

The unpalatable prospect of massive cuts to Norfolk County Council services has been laid bare - with a warning that the worst case scenario could see almost a dozen fire stations closed and more than 200 firefighters posts axed.

The fire at Aldiss in Fakenham in 2014. Photo: iwitness24The fire at Aldiss in Fakenham in 2014. Photo: iwitness24

With departments at Norfolk County Council asked to identify a 25pc reduction in spending over the next three years, that will have major implications across a range of services, including Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

The EDP revealed last week how councillors could be asked to consider cutting the number of fire stations, removing fire engines or changing how fire engines are crewed.

And further details of those possible cuts has now been published. A report, which will go before county councillors next week, says a full 25pc cut to the fire service budget would see a 40pc reduction in front line emergency response cover.

It would see 21 fire engines removed and the closure of 10 fire stations, with the loss of 90 wholetime firefighters and 146 retained firefighters.

The county council stresses those are not options at this point, but an officer view of what services could look like if 25pc (some £6m) was shaved off the budget for the service.

The impact of less severe cuts is also considered. For instance, a saving of 8pc (£2.2m) could see Heacham and West Walton fire stations shut, Gorleston and King’s Lynn North downgraded to day cover only, removing some retained pumps and reducing crewing.

Paul Smyth, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee, said: “We have been tasked with dramatically rethinking the way the county council works.

“The damaging combination of diminishing resources and a growing demand for services means we face an unprecedented challenge, and I acknowledge at the outset that it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the levels of savings we have been asked to achieve without there being a significant impact on services.

“However, the committee must consider changes it might be able to make across the many service areas it has responsibility for, including the Fire and Rescue Service, but I would stress that no decisions or firm proposals are being made at this stage, these are ideas for discussion and debate to be fed back to the policy and resources committee.”

Kevin Game, secretary for the Norfolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It’s very scary and have we have been scared for quite a few years now.

“We have been cut to the bone for the last two to three years and this would be breaking the bone in half. We are already the cheapest service in terms of our cost per head of the population, yet we cover one of the biggest geographical areas.

“We are at maximum capacity as it is, so if any stations were to close, that would have a massive detrimental effect on the safety of the public.”

More detailed options will be brought to the October meeting of the communities committee ahead of public consultation which follows the meeting of the policy and resources committee on October 26.

The county council announced in June it needed to find ways to plug a £111m funding gap over the next three years. The authority launched a Reimagining Norfolk strategy to cope in the face of dwindling grants from the government.

As part of that, every committee - be it children’s services, adult social services or, under the communities remit, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service - has been asked to plan what their department would look like with 75pc of their budget. Over the coming month those committees will reveal their proposals.

That would save £169m, more than the actual funding gap. But the headroom would give councillors some element of choice over which services would be axed.

It would mean, for example, that the communities committee’s spending, which pays for services such as the fire brigade and libraries, would shrink from the current £103.3m to £81.6m by 2018/19.

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