Fire finance boss’ budget cut plea

THE finance boss at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has pleaded with the Government to keep future budget cuts to a minimum.

Matthew Warren, director of resources at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, has urged ministers responsible for reviewing the county’s grant allocation to keep reductions below �4.3million, telling them ‘leave us alone’.

He also expressed concern that cuts imposed on the country’s 49 fire services were not done so proportionately, with some services taking a bigger hit than others.

“For me, the biggest issue is the inconsistency of approach to cuts,” he said. “We have been hit proportionately harder than other fire and rescue services. That has to be addressed in the next round of cuts. If they are going to make cuts, it should be across the board – not Cambridgeshire loses 20 per cent while another loses one per cent. We should all know what we are facing.

“We have demonstrated clearly that we are driving our costs down. Where there is the opportunity to deliver savings we have done. We can tweak a few more things – but it’s not going to save the millions the Government is talking about.”

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Mr Warren and his team are now looking at a merger with the neighbouring Suffolk service that could help save money in the longer term. He said that the two counties’ combined fire control room was approaching its first anniversary and so a complete merger seemed a logical next step.

A merger wouldn’t be without costs. Investment would be needed to “align” the services and the process of due diligence currently being carried out – which will include a public consultation – should identify the spend required, as well as potential savings.

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Mr Warren said: “A full merger would be a natural progression. I would be reluctant to put a figure on it but it would save money – it would have to, to make it worth doing.

“We need to assess it all properly. Our members, and Suffolk’s, need all the information before they can make a decision. And it would be their decision – we don’t want anybody to say they were forced down that route.”

The big concern for fire chiefs across the country is that the current round of cuts will not be the last.

“There are going to be further savings,” he said. “A full merger would give opportunities beyond 2015.”

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