HEREFORD and Worcester firefighters fear the proposed police and crime commissioner takeover could lead to budget cuts and an erosion in their independence.

Fire and rescue services in Hereford, Worcester and Shropshire could face £4m in cuts if the takeover by West Mercia PCC John Campion goes ahead, according to the Fire Brigades Union.

They say these cuts cannot be implemented without them affecting emergency cover and believe the fire control rooms, where firefighters organise and supervise the response, would be worst affected.

Firefighters fear that emergency calls may not get answered as quickly, delaying the response to fires and road traffic collisions in their communities.

Andrew Scattergood, FBU West Midlands regional secretary, said: “It’s dangerously misleading for the PCC to suggest he can cut £4m pounds from existing budgets without affecting emergency cover.

“Control room staff are firefighters and are trained to provide vital fire survival guidance calls – scrapping their posts or merging with policing services is simply not safe.

“Firefighters provide a humanitarian service, which often allows access to areas of the community that the police sometimes struggle to engage with. We cannot do that unless it’s clear that we are not the police.

“We’re not going to cave in on this – we’ll keep fighting until this hostile takeover stops. This is a serious matter of public safety.”

The FBU is encouraging residents to raise their concerns in a submission to Shropshire fire and rescue authority’s consultation, which will decide its next steps to challenge the takeover decision.

The fire and rescue authorities and union have adamantly opposed the takeover, voicing concerns about the undemocratic nature of the takeover, as well as Mr Campion’s lack of fire service experience.

The PCC has a background in business, prison services and the former police authority, they said.

But Mr Campion blasted the FBU claims as ‘deliberately misleading’ and ‘little more than scaremongering’.

“Their suggestion that fire budgets could be cut in favour of policing is nonsense,” he said.

“Money for each individual service is legally protected. As such, it would be illegal to take money given for fire services and use it for policing.

“The FBU’s fears regarding emergency responses and public safety have no evidential basis.

“The issue of public safety has been formally scrutinised throughout this process by independent consultants, Government, CIPFA and most recently a high court judge. It is clear that rather than damaging public safety, there are actually some significant benefits that single governance would enable.

“In Hereford and Worcester, the FBU is in a long, drawn out dispute with the Fire Authority regarding proposed changes to frontline services.

“The union does not seem to acknowledge that my proposals would actually give greater protection to frontline fire services.

“My proposals would deliver significant efficiencies in back-office support functions, which in turn would enable greater investment in the vital frontline services our communities value most.

“My proposals are about maximising the amount of frontline resource for our police and firefighters, not making cuts”.