Suffolk is doing many of things called for in government review of fire service, the county’s chief fire officer and union secretary say.
The government’s former chief fire and rescue advisor Sir Ken Knight’s report last week suggested actions to ‘transform’ the fire service, but he saw many of them when he made Suffolk one of the 15 services he visited.
Sir Ken’s report makes no firm recommendations but puts forward ideas for discussion.
He says he found some authorities spent double others’ budgets suggesting cost savings are possible nationwide.
He suggests collaboration with other emergency services and saving money through mergers, using more retained crews and changing shift systems.
He notes that call outs are down 40 per cent over 10 years, but spending and staffing remain about the same.
He questions having 46 separate fire authorities and floats the idea of a national service for England like that launched in Scotland in April. Chief Fire Officer Andy Fry said: “Even before the current financial crisis we were spending less than any of the 46 fire services in England.
“When you look at the main themes Ken is presenting as good practise, you see much of it in Suffolk.”
Mr Fry added: “He talks about collaborating with other blue light services. In Suffolk we have four shared fire and police stations, sharing investment and improving facilities at those buildings.”
He said fire and police were discussing more and they were teaming up with the ambulance service. Suffolk has saved £500,000 by setting up a joint fire control centre with Cambridgeshire.
Mr Fry said the vast majority of cover is provided by part-time fire fighters. He doubts further savings can be made there, without shutting fire stations, because it is already the cheapest cover.
Roy Humphreys, Suffolk’s Fire Brigades Union secretary, said: “We’ve really done most of the stuff Ken Knight is on about in Suffolk. We’ve already cut it back to the core.”
He doubted more use could be made of retained crews saying they already struggle to man some appliances. He said one problem was people no longer work in the towns the fire stations are based in.
“The fire service all over the country has made cuts,” he added. “What sort of service do you want? It won’t be a good one if you keep cutting it.”