At the North Wales Fire Authority meeting earlier today a decision was made to ‘withdraw’ the option to cut a fire engine & crews however it could be back on the table in June.
The proposal before the meeting was to approve a strategic document, which although did not specifically mention in the recommendation a cut to Wrexham’s fire engines, it was felt by some such a cut was implied.
The meeting was formally asked to approve the final draft of the Improvement and Well-being Plan 2017-18 (copy here) that does not mention the plan specifically, however that document was informed by a consultation (document here). The consultation asked a range of questions, including the following that generated concern:
Q4: Please tell us what you think of the following statement:
If we have to make do with one less fire engine, then it would make most sense to take it away from the fire station that has the most fire engines (i.e. from Wrexham, which is the only fire station in North Wales that has three fire engines).
Officers from the Fire Authority told todays meeting that ‘you are not deciding what the cut might be’, but at the same time referring to the consultation and that a possible cut in Wrexham was the ‘least worse option’.
Meeting told: if Strategy approved not certain what cuts will be made, members mistaken that Wrexham pump cut is implied. Up to future FA.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) March 20, 2017
With the forthcoming local council elections the make up of the Fire Authority will likely change, with a new Authority coming into being in June. The meeting was clearly told that there was no obligation on any new Authority to take forward proposals or guidance from the current Authority.
An amendment was put forward by Councillor Paul Pemberton to request that ‘all talk of a Wrexham pump removal’ be deleted from the report, although the main report itself did not have such a mention.
Such an amendment was rejected on the basis you cannot remove something that is not there, and was reworked to note ‘that the option to reduce second pump in Wrexham is withdrawn’ while making clear for the public any future Authority still has that option.
Councillor Pemberton also offered other areas where he thought £900,000 of savings could take place, pointing out that ‘seventeen grand shy of half a million pounds a year’ is spent on five senior roles, plus stating he was unhappy at spending on new seating at the Fire Service HQ as an example of ‘total wastage’.
Councillor Anne Evans was blunt with her opposing any plans to cut Wrexham’s fire cover: “I agree very much with people who answered the consultation. I do not agree with this and cannot agree with this.”
Views were echoed by Councillor Skelland who queried if proposals to remove a tender from Wrexham had been properly scrutinised, adding in his view they hadn’t.
VOTE 8v3: Fire Authority decide to recommend strategy with new amendment withdrawing Wrexham cut – but new FA can reintroduce from June.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) March 20, 2017
Councillor Geoff Lowe explained his concerns on job losses and fire cover if Wrexham did have a cut. Cllr Lowe also had some fun with some audio issues, pointing out that in his view Guildhall had less resources than Flintshire and Denbighshire and thus microphones were problematic.
We had hoped to stream the meeting, however WiFi issues prevented us from attempting it. The Chair did said no recording, broadcast or pictures were to be taken. Page 129 and others in this document do indicate that such transparency is welcomed, and that broadcasting images and audio appears fine as long as it does not disrupt proceedings.
The overall strategy has been approved, with the mention of possible cuts in Wrexham formally noted as being off the table.
After the local council elections in May a new Authority will be formed, and will likely then look how to make savings.
After the meeting Councillor Meirick Davies, Chair of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority said: “At the Authority meeting today , we discussed the financial prospects of the fire and rescue service and took into account all the feedback received during the consultation and we thank everybody for their response.
“We also took into account the wide ranging concerns raised by stakeholders and considered these carefully before reaching our conclusion.
“The decision to explore reducing services in the future was not taken lightly by members, but rather on the basis of being the least damaging option, and today it was concluded that the Authority will go ahead and pursue this medium term financial strategy.
“A decision as to whether the second appliance at Wrexham should be removed was not considered at this meeting. However members voted to withdraw this as the preferred option for the time being, and it will be for members of the new Fire and Rescue Authority, which will be formed following the local elections in May, to again consider all of the options available and then determine the exact size and means of the reduction in services.”
Speaking this afternoon Marc Jones of the ‘Save our Services’ campaign, said: “This is a fantastic victory for people power in Wrexham. Against the odds, the Fire and Rescue Authority has seen sense and decided not to press ahead with plans to cut one of our two fire engines in the coming years.
“Despite claims that the plan to cut one of Wrexham’s fire engines was not on the agenda, voting through the plan as it was would have meant agreeing in principle to just that. I’m grateful to Cllr Paul Pemberton for pushing through the amendment that struck out the plan for spending cuts on frontline services and to everyone who voted the right way on the day.
“More than anything, I’m grateful to the people of Wrexham who backed our firefighters and marched, protested and signed petitions in their thousands to oppose this plan.”
“A new fire authority will be appointed after the elections in May and this issue might come up again. But the new authority will know the strength of feeling and will have to look at other options.”
Excellent result. The proposal to remove the second Fire Engine at Wrexham has been removed for now. Huge thank you to all for your support. pic.twitter.com/Iu7v5vr6gp
— FBU Cymru/Wales (@FBUCymruWales) March 20, 2017
More reaction soon.
(Top pic: Campaigners who packed the public gallery opposed to any cut in the numbers of Wrexham’s fire engines.)