Lives in County Durham are being risked by fire service cuts that may run into the millions.

Research by County Durham Labour has exposed the scale of the under-funding of Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue, due in part to Tory government austerity and changes to fire service funding placing financial burden on the taxpayer rather than government.

Labour councillors raised concerns at the Combined Fire Authority for County Durham and Darlington, this morning (Wednesday, February 16) that further cuts, proposed by the Tory-led Coalition, will result in crews running appliances with just four firefighters, putting their own and victims’ lives at risk.

Durham Labour Leader, Cllr Carl Marshall, has accused the Tory-led Coalition of trying to force cuts through under the radar by refusing to hold open forum discussions.

He said:

“Our firefighters are amazing, risking their lives to save others, first on the scene at emergencies and offering vital support to communities throughout the pandemic – so how does the County Council’s Coalition of Chaos reward them? Yet another budget cut.

“This Coalition is simply following the example of its government over the last 12 years, that’s seen over £340m removed from County Durham by Tory and LibDem-backed policies. Since 2010, our fire authority has been underfunded, with government now amounting to: “pay more or lose firefighters and fire stations”. The funding changes, considered against cuts to capital grants and spiralling inflation, amount to a real time budget cut of £10m. We’ve already lost 78 full-time firefighter roles and 100 other staff since 2010, but still the Tories continue to slash funding to such vital services.

“These latest reductions will reduce crews from five to four, scandalously badged as a “pilot scheme”. Enough is enough – this Council should be hammering on the minister’s door about this, not meekly trying to slide through a budget that will cost lives in County Durham.

“This government choked off spending to public services – education, NHS, police and fire and rescue services have all been starved of cash while Tories dole out huge government contracts to pals and donors, while writing-off billions in furlough fraud… risking lives to protect billionaires’ bank balances.”

Former firefighter, Cllr Ian McLean, added:

“Durham’s Tory-led Coalition is running the same distraction scam perfected by its government. It wants people angry about public sector pensions while it pushes through plans to crew appliances with just four firefighters. It wants people mad at a new Council HQ, that will save the authority millions in the long term, while it passes policy that increases risk for firefighters and families, and it is all being done with a lack of public consultation, council debate or even talks with firefighters themselves.

“The truth is that the amount of money that has been taken from Durham and Darlington Fire Authority’s budget has it teetering on the brink. Not to mention the fact this Council remains silent about the fact that the burden of funding a vital emergency service, the majority of which was paid for via government grant, has now shifted onto local taxpayers.”

Labour is calling for a full and transparent Budget discussion.

In cash terms overall budget for the fire service has reduced by £1.1m however if inflation is considered, real-time reductions have been far greater, possibly exceeding £10m. The removal of capital funding since 2014/15 placing even greater strain on the revenue budget. Staffing numbers have reduced by 14% over that period. With greatest reductions in corporate staff and control staff as the service strives to protect frontline operations. Overall staff numbers have reduced from 683 in 2010/11 to 586 in 2021/22.

Agenda and papers: County Durham and Darlington Fire Authority papers