Fire service gears up for budget cuts

THE FIRE service has begun drawing up plans to cover voluntary redundancy and early retirement to deal with expected budget cuts.

There is no estimate of the numbers which could be affected, as the full impact of cuts in government funding will not be known until later this year.

However, the move is a clear indication that the service will be looking to make savings through reducing its workforce.

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It has been estimated that Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service (LBFRS) will have to make savings of up to 5 million between 2011 and 2014 to cope with restricted government budgets. With 85 per cent of costs going on staff, this leaves the service with very few options except cutting the workforce, although it is committed not to touch frontline services.

LBFRS's scrutiny committee was tasked earlier this year with looking at options for making the savings, and will report back later this week on what has been done to lay the groundwork for the redeployment of staff, as well as redundancy, voluntary severance or early release.

It also admitted there were a range of further measures which it could look at, including seeking volunteers for extended unpaid leave or a reduction in hours, aggressive recruitment management, and natural wastage.

The committee has also raised the possibility of a "deletion of funded vacancies", meaning the service may stop replacing staff who leave.

It had previously been warned that because of major budget savings made in recent years it would be extremely hard to make the necessary cuts without affecting the effectiveness of the service, considered one of the best in the UK.

Andy Fulton, chairman of the Lothian and Borders Fire Brigades Union, said:

"These measures will, as I understand it, not affect firefighters but will instead be kept to backroom staff. Having said that, we are of the opinion that any reduction to the service in whatever area will inevitably have an effect on frontline services. The control room and support staff are just as important as the firefighters to doing the job properly."

National figures show that LBFRS is one of the most efficient services in Scotland, costing roughly 50 per head annually, compared to the Scottish average of 59.99.

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Over the last six year the service has cut 6.2m off its annual budget, leaving them very little scope to make further savings.

David Millar, Director of corporate services at LBFRS, said: "A range of contingency plans are being developed to deal with possible spending cuts.

"The work force management plan, as with all work plan issues, is aimed at supporting Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service in delivering financial efficiencies.

"There are currently no plans to practically apply these procedures, but their development recognises the difficulties facing the public sector at this time."