Representatives from a number of fire and rescue services, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) gave evidence on the Review to the Communities and Local Government select committee.
The independent report by Sir Ken Knight, who is the former chief fire and rescue advisor for England, suggested that if fire and rescue services found ways to reduce their spending to the national average, then the savings could amount to nearly £200million per year.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the committee the Knight Review ‘will only be used as a fig leaf for cuts that will cost lives’. He said: ‘Firefighters are the real experts on how the Service should be run, and we know that it needs investment and sensible debate, not cuts and poorly-conceived restructuring. Improving response times are vital to saving lives, but these reforms will instead slow things down.’
CFOA vice president Paul Fuller expressed fears that the proposed cuts would hit frontline services. CFOA believes that fire and rescue services are nearing the point at which further efficiencies cannot be delivered at the scale required to meet the budget gap while sustaining the same level of service to the public.
He highlighted that some authorities would not be able to meet the challenge should substantial further cuts be applied equally across the board. He said: ‘Some authorities have yet to implement significant efficiency measures, yet remain relatively well funded, while others have made significant changes and have little option but to reduce frontline services, which is unacceptable.’
Dorset Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Darran Gunter also gave evidence at the hearing in London. He said: ‘It goes without saying that our communities would expect us to look for and find all possible savings before we consider adverse changes to our service delivery.’
Fire minister Brandon Lewis replied: ‘Our latest statistics are clear that over the past year fire fatalities fell by 14%, fire casualties reduced by 11%, and dwelling fires fell by 6%. Yet Sir Ken Knight’s review was clear that there are still some fire authorities that continue to spend to budget rather than according to the risks they face.
‘As Sir Ken’s report showed, if those authorities spending above the average found ways to reduce their spending to the national average, it could save nearly £200m a year.’