North Wales firefighters have an anxious wait to see what cuts will be implemented to the service.
More than 100 firefighters and supporters from across north Wales took part in a protest to defend the region’s fire service from cuts in Wrexham last Saturday, 30 September – the day North Wales Fire and Rescue Service closed its public consultation on cuts to fire-fighters, fire stations and cover across the area.
The Fire Brigades Union’s campaign ‘Save Our Fire Service’ opposes the options presented in the consultation – one of which would lead to the closure of Abersoch Fire Station – as all three options would result in a reduction to fire cover.
Option one maintains a 24-hour response model at existing wholetime stations with Rhyl and Deeside fire stations changing to a day crewing duty system and the addition of three day staffed stations at Corwen, Porthmadog and Dolgellau.
In option two Rhyl and Deeside change to a day staffing duty system, Wrexham’s third fire appliance is removed maintaining one fire appliance staffed by wholetime firefighters and one appliance staffed by on-call firefighters and a redistribution of staff from Wrexham, Rhyl, Deeside and the Rural Wholetime Duty System enables the addition of three day staffed stations, located at Corwen, Porthmadog and Dolgellau and a reduction in wholetime firefighter numbers by 22.
Option three is like two, but with a natural reduction in wholetime firefighter numbers by 36 and the closure of five on-call fire stations at Abersoch, Beaumaris, Cerrigydrudion, Conwy and Llanberis, resulting in the reduction of on-call firefighter numbers by 38.
The union has put forwards two alternative proposals for growth and investment in the service instead.
A petition opposing these options has gained over 1,800 signatures.
Speakers at the protest included Plaid Cymru county councillor Carrie Harper, Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj, Cllr Dana Davies, representatives from Unite the Union, and FBU representatives including assistant general secretary Ben Selby.
Matt Ryan, North Wales FBU brigade secretary, said: “If any of the proposed cuts are implemented, towns and villages across north Wales will face a concerning reduction in fire cover. This means fewer firefighters and resources available to respond quickly to incidents like house fires.
“We have put forward clear alternatives to these dangerous cuts, which would allow our service to continue protecting our communities and to grow with in-vestment.
“Members of the public have been vocal in joining the campaign and defending their fire service.”
Duncan Stewart-Ball, Wales FBU regional secretary, said: “The strength of feeling among firefighters and the public has been overwhelming. It’s clear that our communities will not stand by and allow public safety to be sacrificed as part of a cost cutting exercise.
“Slashing the number of fire stations, firefighters, fire engines inevitably puts lives and homes at risk. We will not sit back and allow this decimation of our public service.
“We urge the fire authority to put an option for improvement to our services out to the public of north Wales and let them decide.”
A public consultation on the future of the fire service in north Wales was extended.
North Wales Fire and Rescue Service want to speed up response times and improve emergency cover in Dolgellau and Porthmadog, but this could see the closure of five fire stations across north Wales, including Llanberis and Abersoch, and lead to some firefighters losing their jobs.
North Wales Fire and Rescue Service's Chief fire officer Dawn Docx has thanked everyone who has taken part or attended community engagement events.
She said: “We are pleased that so many have completed our questionnaire, whether online or on paper, and are getting involved in our consultation process.
After the final decision has been made, any changes would take place in a phased approach, as part of the 2024/28 Community Risk Management Plan.
Gwynedd Council said option one means every north Wales household would pay £20.36 more than they do now. The second option would cost each household £16.63 more than now. The final option would see taxpayers pay £12.22 more than now, but Gwynedd Council is firmly opposed to it.
A spokesperson said: “Closing two on-call stations within the county would be a huge loss and, in the council’s opinion, would undermine the aim of being able to respond promptly to emergency calls at some locations in Gwynedd. This is particularly true when you consider that the greatest pressure on the service is in the late afternoon and early evening at which times it is more likely to have on-call staff available to respond to the calls received.”
Proposals for day-staffed fire stations in Porthmadog and Dolgellau were welcomed by the council, but said this should not come at the expense of closing stations at Abersoch and Llanberis.
However, the council said it was concerned about the additional financial burden on taxpayers if one of the first two options was taken, and the fire service should look at the number of officers in senior management as a potential way of mitigating costs, adding: “There are higher costs involved in realising those options (as well as job losses associated with option 2) and the council is concerned about the impact of this on the level of rates’ increase that would be necessary to implement the change.
“In the context of cost, the council notes that the number of officers at senior management level within the regional fire and rescue authority appears high compared to other fire and rescue authorities across England and Wales.
“From the point of view of the taxpayer in Gwynedd, the council believes that it would be sensible for the fire authority to weigh up that management cost alongside its ability to provide the front-line service it seeks to achieve.”
They said there was “extreme pressure being predicted” on council budgets next year and beyond.
“The required contribution from the six local authorities would represent an approximate 14 per cent increase in order to realise option one and around 10 per cent to realise option 2 and this would mean that some of our local services as a council would be under greater threat than would otherwise be the case.
“In summary, the council is supportive of the aim to improve emergency response services and is keen to see day staffed fire stations in Porthmadog and Dolgellau being established, but not at the expense of closing the on-call fire stations in Abersoch and Llanberis, whilst further proposing that there is scope to consider reducing the foreseen increase in the levy for the 2024-25 tax year by reviewing senior management requirements and administrative arrangements within the fire authority.”
Watch our video from last Saturday's protest to hear more from the fire service about the cost-cutting proposal.