Government accused of ‘playing with lives’

Teacher David Riddle pictured with English Marytrs sixth form studens during the 'Hustings'.
Teacher David Riddle pictured with English Marytrs sixth form studens during the 'Hustings'.

AN MP has accused the Government of “playing with lives” as Cleveland Fire Brigade tackles millions of pounds worth of cuts.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham spoke out in Parliament and questioned why the service should have to make severe cuts when the area is at the highest risk of an industrial fire in Europe.

The brigade has been facing £7m shortfall over four years and has already had to cut 70 jobs, although bosses say it has not affected the level of services.

Mr Cunningham, whose constituency covers Billingham, Wolviston and parts of Wynyard, praised the brigade for driving down house fires in recent years. But he questioned Government policy in a debate involving Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Communities and Local Government, Bob Neill.

Mr Cunningham said: “The Government are playing with people’s lives, so I would like to know what the Minister’s message is to people in my communities, and who he will blame when there is a tragedy there.

“What assessment he has made of the potential effect of funding reductions on the operational activities of fire and rescue services.”

Mr Neill replied: “Operational matters are best assessed at the local level. It is for each fire and rescue authority to determine the operational activities of its fire and rescue service through its integrated risk management plan, which is subject to consultation with the local community.”

Mr Neill added that the brigade receives more than twice the funding of authorities in other areas.

He said: “The Cleveland Fire Service does excellent work.

Mr Cunningham told the Mail he remains “extremely concerned” but does not expect that concern to result in any changes to the cuts.

“The Government seem to have cloth ears when it comes to their cuts,” Mr Cunningham told the Mail.

“Cleveland Fire Brigade looks after the highest industrial risk area in Europe.”

Brigade chiefs say a 3.95 per cent increase in council tax precept this year leaves them with a £7m shortfall.

Ian Hayton, chief fire officer with Cleveland Fire Brigade, said: “Due to a council tax rise we are looking at a £7m shortfall over a period of four years.

“We have taken out £3m over the last two years and are looking at a further £3.7m over the next two years.

“We have cut 70 posts, 56 of which were operational and 14 were administration. They have made no difference to the quality of service that we deliver.”