The government are putting lives at risk by failing to recognise the true extent of budget cuts to the fire and rescue service, an influential House of Commons committee has said.
The Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Labour MP Meg Hillier, slammed the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), who were up until last month responsible for the service, as lacking a detailed understanding of fire authorities’ capacity to absorb further budgets cuts.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which represents the majority of uniformed fire service personnel, said the committee’s report, entitled Financial sustainability of fire and rescue services, confirmed the union’s worst fears over the handling of service budgets.
Dave Green, FBU national officer, said: “The government have been caught sleeping at the wheel during a critical time for our service. Without urgent intervention by the Home Office, the fire service could soon crash off the road.
“Ministers have presided over huge budgets cuts without any system in place to effectively measure the impact of what they’re doing. They are putting lives at risk and may well have contributed to the deaths of people who otherwise may have been saved.
“The DCLG’s own figures show response times are at their longest for 20 years. The government ought to be ashamed of themselves for putting cash before people. We hope that the transfer of responsibility of fire and rescue to the Home Office offers a chance to right these wrongs.”
The fire and rescue service has suffered a nearly 30 per cent funding cut since 2010, which has resulted in over 7,000 frontline firefighting jobs being cut. Figures calculated by the FBU estimate that new cuts of 20 per cent will be made to fire and rescue in England from now until 2020. This represents a 50 per cent funding cut over a decade.
For more information, go to www.fbu.org.uk