Fire service to slash budget by almost a fifth in five years - but plans discussed in private (From The Argus)
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East Sussex fire service to slash budget by almost a fifth in five years - but plans discussed in private
Fire chiefs have been accused of having “something to hide” after drawing up plans to reduce its budget by a fifth – and then discussing it in secret.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service must make £7.1 million savings – the equivalent of 18.2% of its current total budget - over the next five years as the government spending squeeze continues.
This is in addition to the £1.3 million of savings already agreed for 2014/15.
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But, exact details of how this will happen were not shared with the press or public at an open meeting yesterday as those sitting on the authority agreed to talk about it behind closed doors.
Union representatives have now slammed elected members, asking if they had something to hide.
Steve Liszka, of East Sussex Fire Brigade Union, said: “These issues are very important to the public and I think it’s only right that the public should know how East Sussex Fire and Rescue spend their budget.
“It’s important that we have a transparent and open system and to not have suggests they have something to hide.”
The service’s spending plans over the next five years was discussed by the fire authority at its regular meeting yesterday.
Aside from a planned 1.94% rise in its council tax, there are no details in a seven page report on how the savings will be made.
However, the report, which was attributed to Des Prichard, the county’s chief fire officer, said: “The financial situation means that difficult decisions will have to be made – there is no choice but to change the way in which the authority delivers its services in the future.”
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Mr Prichard indicated that fire stations could close.
He said the service was about “managing risk” adding that some stations were “in the wrong location”.
Mr Prichard also indicated a report would be brought to a further meeting drawing up plans to look at charging property owners for repeat fire alarms.
A spokeswoman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, told The Argus last night it had “made no secret of the financial challenges it is facing” but now it must look at how to deliver value for money.
She said: “Like all other public services, we have had significant reductions to our Government grant and we have not increased our council tax for the past three years.
“This means that going forward, we will not be able to continue providing our operational response and community safety services in the way we currently do.”
The spokeswoman said the authority had already “made enormous strides in making our communities safer”, adding: “We want to reassure the public that we are determined to keep our communities in East Sussex and Brighton and Hove City safe through our range of work, whether education programmes, community safety initiatives, road safety campaigns or responding to emergencies when the worst happens.”
A public consultation will take place from February 2014 where the findings will be presented to the Fire Authority in June 2014.
Updates will be posted on www.esfrs.org
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