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Was Tory U-turn on Fire Service part of their plan all along?

A major issue in the recent elections was the plans by Conservative-run Suffolk County Council to cut the Ipswich’s fire service in half so that we would only have three fire engines to cover the whole of the town.

This was raised again and again by people on the doorstep. Of particular concern was the plan to cut the number of engines at the Princes Street fire station – the busiest fire station in Suffolk – to a single engine.

These cuts are hugely unpopular and I said in my column last week that the plans would have to be rethought.

A few hours after it was published – I think it was probably a coincidence! – the County Council did indeed put out revised plans, with a reduction in the level of cuts.

This has been portrayed as a U-turn in the face of public opposition but the truth is that Conservative councillors are still ploughing ahead with cuts:

  • Instead of cutting three out of Ipswich’s six fire engines they are now “only” planning to cut two.

  • Instead of cutting the number of full time firefighters in Ipswich by twenty they will “only” be cutting sixteen.

  • Instead of cutting the number of on-call firefighters in Ipswich by eight they will “only” be cutting six.

There is a strong suspicion that these are the level of cuts Conservative councillors wanted all along.

They knew they would be unpopular so put forward even bigger cuts. That way, when they “backed down”, the level of cuts they’d wanted all along wouldn’t seem so bad.

The County says that their new proposals are responding to what people said in the public consultation but I haven’t met a single person who told me: “I don’t want Ipswich’s fire service to be cut in half but I’ve got no problem with it being cut by a third”.

We are assured that this new level of cuts is perfectly safe, but of course we were assured that the previous level was perfectly safe too. If Conservative councillors were really convinced that the bigger level of cuts was safe, then why haven’t they stuck with them?

And if they were wrong before how can we be confident that they are right now?

One extraordinary statement was that only having four engines in Ipswich was fine because quite often that’s all we have available now. One may have been sent to cover at a retained station in the rest of Suffolk and one could be in for repairs.

But of course if that happens in future then we’ll only have two fire engines covering the whole of Ipswich!

And it does not address the issue that if there is a fire in a tower block – of which we will have more in the future when the Winerack and the Mill are completed – six engines need to attend. Some of these will now have to come from outside Ipswich.

This exercise has been about one thing and one thing only: saving money. All other considerations have been secondary. The one constant throughout the proposals – and the one thing we have been told is non-negotiable – is the amount of money that will be saved.

These new cuts haven’t been finally agreed yet but time is running out. If you aren’t happy with these cuts to one of our emergency services, please contact your county councillor and let them know.

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