Friday, 20 March 2015

Radical changes to the fire service are a cut too far.

On Monday Staffordshire Fire and Rescue bosses announced a radical review of the service in response to an expected £5.7 million cut in government funding. A significant drop in ‘high severity’ call-outs, such as major road traffic accidents or fires that spread from their point of origin, was also cited as a reason for the proposed changes.

Speaking about the fall in high severity call-outs Staffordshire Chief Fire Officer Peter Dartford told the Sentinel the situation today is ‘much different than it was five or ten years ago and that’s predominantly because of the proactive work that we have been doing in the community which has resulted in fewer fires.’

The proposed changes to the service include removing fire cover from 18 stations across the county, cutting the number of fire appliances from 42 to just 15 and axing the jobs of all 499 retained fire fighters. At the time the number of full time fire fighters will rise to 390 as new jobs are created to provide round the clock cover at the remaining stations.

Peter Dartford told the Sentinel the service faced the ‘challenge of a reducing budget so we have to think about how we can do things differently while continuing to deliver all the same services and outcomes for the community, but with less resources.’

There’s doing things differently and then there’s doing something that appears to be plain mad; guess which category these changes fall into?

I have heard Peter Dartford speak at public meetings on a number of occasions and he is clearly passionate about fire safety and has achieved some impressive results since taking up his post. More to the point he is clearly nobody’s fool.

Which makes it all the more surprising that he can suggest that just 15 fire engines could ever be enough to meet the need of the entire county, a single major accident on the M6 or a large enough fire could produce problems that put lives and property needlessly at risk.

Perhaps these proposals are the opening bid in a game of poker being played between Dartford and the bean counters at the Treasury. A way of saying, ok so you want cuts then we’ll make some; but when the worst happens and it will the smoke stained fire fighter staggering out of the rubble like Steve McQueen in Towering Inferno will be pointing the finger of blame at you.

That’s the best case scenario, although I wouldn’t like to bet on the mandarins of the Treasury having the sensitivity to get the point, their record on empathy is notoriously poor.

There is another and much darker possibility, that the imperative to cut and cut deep has become ingrained in the culture of public services leadership. A flaw in their thinking that causes good men like Peter Dartford to do bad things with worse consequences in the service of an ideological assault on the state and.

If that after five years of ‘austerity’ is where we have been brought to then, as a wise friend with no small amount of political experience himself said to me this week, the people who brought such policies upon us should themselves be cut from public life.

Naughty under Lyme

According to flirtatious website Illicit Encounters one of the nation’s hot-spots for extra-marital affairs is, drum roll please, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Research carried out by the site, perhaps by having their staff peek through the gap whenever they see bedroom curtains drawn during daytime, puts the town at sixth place in a national league table with 1.64% op residents playing away.

All quite harmless I suppose and not really the business of anyone other than the consenting adults involved. I can’t help wondering though how long it will be before some bright spark at the council launches a bid for the Ironmarket to be used as a location in the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey?

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