Fire chiefs respond to concerns from Milton Keynes amid looming budget worries

Great Holm fire station
Great Holm fire station

Fire chiefs have responded to concerns that residents in Milton Keynes have been put at risk when staff from the city have been sent to cover parts of Buckinghamshire.

The issue of firefighters being assigned from Great Holm fire station to Aylesbury was raised at the annual meeting of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority in Aylesbury on Wednesday.

When a new combined 999 services Blue Light Hub opens at West Ashland it will mean that both Bletchley and Great Holm fire stations will be closed, and fire staff will move in with police and ambulance staff to the new site.

Cllr Pete Marland, MK Council’s leader, said there is a “great deal of worry in Milton Keynes” over staff being moved to Aylesbury. And on Twitter, Cllr Zoe Nolan has tweeted when there are no firefighters at Great Holm in the city.

Cllr Marland highlighted a report that pointed out that the fire service covering Bucks and MK has significantly fewer whole-time firefighters than the national average.

In a press release received after the meeting, Cllr Marland said: “We have reached a point where Milton Keynes stations are being routinely closed and staff transferred to other stations to make up shortfalls in staffing numbers. The service is operating on a skeleton basis.

“I fear if Great Holm station is closed as planned, this will only get worse. The service is struggling to keep existing firefighters and while it has moved to an operating model of fewer full-time staff to cope with cuts, it is simply not operating with enough retained staff to make that model work properly.

“I genuinely believe we are in a situation where we have been lucky, but I fear a situation where there is a major incident in two parts of the service area on a night when cover stretched. It would only take something to happen in the M1 at the same time as a major fire, and the service will fail if cover from other authorities is operational at the same time. It is hugely concerning. Lives are at risk.”

The fire authority received a report that said in the 20 fire stations across Bucks (five covering MK) there are 252 full-time firefighters and 116 on-call firefighters. If Bucks had the average number, that would be 312 and 227 respectively.

But fire chiefs say the way they organise their staff means they have been able to organise their firefighters in a way that covers Milton Keynes more than adequately.

After the meeting, Mick Osborne, the deputy chief fire officer, said: “The people of Milton Keynes can be assured that they are as safe as they can be with the services that we provide.

“We’ve gone through 10 years of budget reductions and austerity but we still provide the same levels of service in Milton Keynes that we did 10 years ago.

“No fire stations have been closed. We manage our resources on a daily basis across both Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire and we move resources around to wherever we might need them.

“We manage our resources every day and every night. Some days there may be a shortage in one area of a particular skill and we may need to move an individual or a crew to cover that at any particular time.

“On a daily basis, we will move resources around to where they are needed the most.”

Fire staff were praised in the meeting by fire chief Jason Thelwell who said that years of austerity have meant the service has been looking at different ways of working.

The authority also heard that the fire service is facing the prospect of running out of financial reserves in the next few years if budgetary arrangements do not change. There is uncertainty over what might happen during the next government spending review.

Mr Thelwell said: “A number of changes have been made but staff have always come with us. The medium-term financial outlook is worrying but with our staff I know we will get through it.”