Hartlepool councillors’ fears over plans to slash Cleveland Fire Authority

Cleveland Fire Authority has its headquarters at Queens Meadow Business Park in Hartlepool .
Cleveland Fire Authority has its headquarters at Queens Meadow Business Park in Hartlepool .

Hartlepool councillors have spoken out against proposals to almost halve the membership of Cleveland Fire Authority.

The authority, which is currently made up of 23 councillors from across the region it serves, could be scaled back to just 12 councillors – with only two from Hartlepool helping to make decisions.

Concerned scrutiny will be eroded by having a smaller number of people making decisions

Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher

It is asking local councils for their views on the proposal as part of efficiency savings as the authority faces budget cuts of £5.8million between 2014 and 2018.

But most members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Finance and Policy Committee were against the idea that would save £40,000.

They feared it would result in less scrutiny and could pave the way for the brigade to be run as a mutual business, which has been likened to privatisation.

Coun Marjorie James said: “I don’t believe a reduction to 12 is in the best interests of Hartlepool. I think it is too small.

“I certainly wouldn’t support anything less than 16. We want to make sure Hartlepool has a meaningful voice and I don’t believe two from 12 is meaningful.”

Coun Carl Richardson said: “With the amount of cuts the fire authority is going to be facing, we need more accountability not less.”

Coun Paul Thompson disagreed, saying: “I support the idea of a smaller authority. I would rather see a smaller management committee and more firefighters on the frontline.”

He added even the proposal for 12 councillors would put Cleveland on a par for population ratio with other metropolitan authorities that have greater responsibilities.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “My greatest concern is that challenge, debate and scrutiny will be eroded by having a smaller number of people making decisions.”

Regarding the fear of mutualisation, Coun Chris Simmons said: “The workforce want us to keep it in public hands. It will cost less but it won’t do the same job we are getting now.”

The full Hartlepool council is due to give its response when it meets on June 25.