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Devon and Somerset FRS embarks on improvement programme

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Overview of the change programme

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has initiated a comprehensive change programme aimed at addressing substantial financial challenges expected in the upcoming year and beyond.

The Service is required to find savings of £3 million to achieve a balanced budget for the 2024-2025 financial year.

This initiative involves further savings in the following three to four years.

Financial challenges and proposed solutions

The change programme is a strategic response to a predicted budget gap of £14.5 million by 2024, subject to the realisation of future savings and increases in council tax.

An audit by Grant Thornton highlighted a need for £8.4 million in savings, even with potential council tax rises.

The Service is confronting these challenges with a proposed target operating model to enhance efficiency while ensuring public safety.

Chief Fire Officer Gavin Ellis expressed concerns about the global economic crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, unfunded pay awards, and rising interest rates impacting the Service’s utilities and resources.

Ellis emphasised the importance of investing in crucial areas like estates and firefighter training while driving efficiencies.

Proposed changes and consultations

To address the financial deficit, several areas are under review, including wholetime firefighter shift patterns, on-call firefighter pay systems, responses to unwanted fire signals, and specialist rescue capabilities.

The Fire Authority has unanimously endorsed these planned changes, to be included in the 2024-25 revenue budget proposals.

Further, the Service is consulting the public on its ‘Safer Together’ proposals, considering station closures or reduced provisions across the two counties.

These changes aim to reflect incident level alterations over recent decades and accommodate new housing growth.

Unions have criticised the proposal to close fire stations and modify operations, labelling them as ‘not fit for purpose’.

Amy Webb, the authority’s director of finance, warned that delaying proposed savings could hinder the Service’s ability to balance its budget in the coming year.

Options under consideration

The six options presented to the Fire Authority include:

  1. Station closures in low-risk areas, potentially increasing fire safety checks.
  2. Station closures and removal of third appliances from certain stations.
  3. Other options focusing on efficiency and resource allocation.

IFSJ Comment

The Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service’s decision to embark on a change and improvement programme highlights the challenges faced by emergency services in managing budget constraints while ensuring public safety.

The programme’s focus on efficiency and strategic resource allocation demonstrates a proactive approach to fiscal responsibility.

However, it also raises concerns about the potential impact on emergency response capabilities and community safety.

The ongoing public consultation process reflects the Service’s commitment to stakeholder engagement and transparency.

As this situation develops, the balance between financial prudence and operational effectiveness will be crucial in determining the success of these changes.

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