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New Reforms Of Fire Service In Greater Manchester Will See Staff Cut And Stations Closed

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 5:24am

By James Illingworth - Local Democracy Reporter

Fire station mergers, staff cuts and a reduction of firefighters per engine are part of cost-saving measures proposed for Greater Manchester.

More than 100 support roles are potentially facing the axe, along with the number of appliances across the city region being reduced from 56 to 47.

Six stations – in Bolton, Stockport and Manchester – are scheduled to close and be replaced with three new sites, although no cuts to frontline staff are included.

With the brigade facing a savings target of £12.8m over three years, bosses are also proposing the number of firefighters riding on each appliance should fall from five to four.

Average response times are expected to increase by a ‘negligible’ 10 seconds as a result of the changes, bosses have said.

GM mayor and fire commissioner Andy Burnham said the reforms will deliver a ‘back to basics’ and ‘frontline first’ approach.

The move aims to tackle a number of issues identified by the Kerslake Report, such as a lack of communication between the brigade and other public services.

“Despite the continued austerity we are doing everything we can in Greater Manchester to maintain the level of service that our fire service provides,” the mayor said in a statement.

“As a result of these changes GMFRS will still be able to boast some of the fastest response times in the country.

“We are not doing this by making unfair demands of our firefighters.”

Around 113 support staff roles could be axed, bosses have said, including youth engagement, community and administration posts, although they are aiming for no compulsory redundancies.

It would see the number of civilian support workers reduced from 423 to 310.

Firefighters will be expected to take on protection and prevention work within the community.

Mr Burnham added: “The frontline remains our focus. I have asked the new fire chief to adopt a frontline first ethos throughout the organisation and make sure our firefighters have the right training, modern equipment and facilities.”

The move from the amount of firefighters on each appliance will not compromise on safety, the mayor said, with many crews across the city region – and brigades across the country – already crewing four per engine.

A new shift pattern with the removal of a ‘roster reserve’ system – which saw firefighters called in to cover gaps, often on days off – has already been brought in, he added.

However, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is opposed to appliances being crewed by four firefighters.

Gary Keary, FBU representative for Greater Manchester, said “The FBU is opposed to all cuts to front line cover, this would include the closure of fire stations, the removal of fire appliances and the reduction of firefighters.

“We have for too long seen the decimation of our fire service resulting from budget cuts and must fight any further deterioration.”

The six stations facing potential closure are: Bolton Central and Bolton North; Stockport, King Street, and Stockport, Whitehill; plus Philips Park and Manchester Central.

They will be replaced by three new sites.

And second engines will be cut from Manchester Central, Blackley, Heywood, Moss Side, Oldham, Eccles, Salford and Gorton stations.

The reform proposals come after Mr Burnham opted not to increase the fire service precept part of household tax bills for 2019/20.

Since 2010, GMFRS has seen its funding from central government cut by more than £20m.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the mayor said council tax cannot make up the shortfall in government cash and he was concerned with previous efficiency plans.

“I couldn’t go to the public and say every £1 was being maximised in terms of frontline cover (under the previous system).

“It hasn’t had its focus where it should be; on frontline delivery.
“It’s a really tough thing to try to do but I can say we’ve done our best to look after our firefighters and done our best to maintain response times.”

The proposals will be subject to a public consultation later this year.

Chief Fire Officer, Jim Wallace, said: “These proposals outline some of the most progressive changes in the history of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service but they are important ones to make sure we are a service fit for the future.

“This will put us in a position where we can continue to keep people safe, but also ensure that we are a sustainable, efficient service.

“There will be tough decisions to make going forward but all of this will be informed by staff feedback and with the use of a robust evidence base.

“We want to use place-based working to make a real difference in preventing fires and other emergencies but also to work with partners to allow them to focus on those who require specialist assistance.

“By working with our partners we can make sure we are doing the best we can to keep the people of Greater Manchester safe.”

Mr Burnham added the city region’s 10 local authority leaders have been ‘kept well informed’ of the proposals.

He said: “We’ve talked to the town hall leaders as we’ve gone along in terms of the likely shape of it.

“None of us find this particularly easy because I inherited a situation where major savings had to be found.”
Deputy Mayor Baroness Beverley Hughes said: “These proposals, by reverting to the core business of rescue, prevention and protection will enable our firefighters to make an even better contribution to the safety, security and wellbeing of people in communities across Greater Manchester.
“I am grateful for the spirit in which staff from right across the organisation have been willing to engage with us and tell us what they think.”
Categories: Fire and Rescue Services

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