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Posted by: CFO Steve McGuirk

It's important  today to make comment on a number of issues the Fire and Rescue Service in Greater Manchester is facing, and encourage people who live and work in the city region to get involved and have their say.

As I have said many times over the past months - there's a huge amount going on at the moment and we face some huge issues arising from the economic crisis; and this week's editions of the Manchester Evening News certainly provide a clear testament to that.

I genuinely can't remember the last time we appeared on the front page for different reasons twice in as many days. These certainly are unprecedented times.

Many will have no doubt read the articles, the editorial comment made by the paper itself and, indeed, the many readers comments for themselves  - some readers of this blog may even have contributed to those comments online - but I just wanted to put on record my own views as to where we are.

There's no doubt some people will have read the headlines about 'cuts' with some fair amount of concern.

For me, I can't say I am thrilled at a headline talking about 'post code lottery' (a term liberally sprinkled about nowadays) because I think it is unhelpfully alarmist. Nevertheless, on balance I think it's really positive we have found ourselves and our plans being scrutinised in the public domain in this way.

At least no-one can accuse us of trying to keeping things hidden - quite the opposite in fact - and that is right and proper.

In today's MEN there are details of what are described as 'new response times'. Actually the times themselves were developed about eighteen months ago and consulted upon last year and have been taken directly from our Corporate Plan 2011/14.  

They are reinforced in our draft Corporate Plan 2012-15, which is on the agenda to be approved for consultation by members of the Fire Authority tomorrow. It's really the outcomes of applying those response times in the future that is the source of the concern raised in the papers.

We are trying to be as upfront, open and transparent about plans and proposals for dealing with the issues we face as possible and in that regard we would applaud our local journalists for providing such important coverage.

In one sense, it's a great way for people to understand what is going and it also raises the profile and encourages people to get involved and have their say.

On the other hand developing and planning response times and standards, and rostering patterns for incidents as different as the proverbial 'cat up a tree' to an incident such as Buncefield is complex, and difficult to get across in a strap line or a soundbite.  Far easier, just to report that in some areas appliances will be quicker in some areas slower - and align all the change as a simple 'budget cut'. 

And this is not to duck the reality that much of this thinking has been, and is, driven by the financial climate. 

There's simply no option here to say 'let's not bother with any of this - it will be unpopular and risky'.

On the other hand, we have done a huge amount already reducing management costs and back office costs (actually we have found nearly £9million in this way) but, when the majority of our budget is made up of salary costs, then it is impossible to avoid looking at ways of using less staff whilst, at the same time, providing the best standard of service we can. Though we must also continue to work to keep people safe through prevention activity, encouraging people to also be mindful and take responsibility for their own safety too.

We understand fully that people still want the very simple reassurance that when they dial 999 our crew will be with them as soon as possible. I can understand that, it comes down to basic human instinct.

We will no doubt find out more feedback as the consultation process goes on and then it will be for the Fire Authority to agree a way forward when it closes for comment in January 2012. We intend to do a full and comprehensive consultation process and explain both the context and development of response times and standards so that people can really understand what we have had, what we now have and what we are proposing - and why.

In the meantime I would urge you to read the document and if you've got a view please let us know.

 

Last update: 19/09/2012 13:24:05
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