Firemen to sell their skills to meet funding shortfallBy Amy Taylor
February 01, 2013
HAMPSHIRE firemen have voted to sell their skills to the public to meet a shortfall in funding over the coming years.
The county’s Fire & Rescue service met on January 30 to discuss setting up a trading company to provide ‘specialist’ services to the public and bring in extra revenue.
The meeting, postponed from January 18 due to snow, saw the fire service’s finance and general purposes committee recommend creating the company, which could generate up to £1 million by its third year. A final decision will be made by the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority on February 14.
The proposal comes despite a forecast underspend of £4.2m in the fire service’s budget, left over from the third quarter of 2012/13.
John Beckerleg, director of corporate services for Hampshire Fire & Rescue, said the underspend was part of the service’s forward plans to combat the fall in government funding, predicted to last for at least another four years.
“We’re looking at a reduction of 25%, so rather than waiting until now, we have been planning a series of efficiency measures over two years, and more gradually reducing our spending,” he said.
A large chunk of the underspend will be transferred to the fire service’s reserves, including £1m to its improvement and sustainability (I&S) reserve, where the funds will be kept for projects such as building in the future and vehicle maintenance.
“It’s money put aside to identify opportunities that will save us money over time,” Mr Beckerleg said, adding that measures were being taken across all fire stations in the county to cut costs.
“With the trading company, we expect more of the same in funding cuts, so in effect what we are thinking is if our grant is continuing to go down, what measures can we take to protect frontline services?
The idea of fire services selling their technical expertise is not a new one, with several other forces in the country having done the same, including Essex, West Midlands and Lancashire.
“There is quite a market for fire related training in various guises, and the more specialised skills which we have got and others are interested in having,” said Mr Beckerleg.
“It’s all about trying to enhance the provision we have got, not taking it away from existing services in Hampshire.”
Skills like those of the county’s urban search and rescue teams would be particularly marketable, he added, as well as risk assessment procedures. Statutory functions, including tackling fires, chemical or biological hazards, promoting fire safety, or attending road accidents, would not be commercially traded.
Crisis management, driver training, work first aid, equipment testing, and working at height instruction would all be on the list of permissable activities.