The Ulster Farmers’ Union has met with representatives from the Fire Brigades Union to discuss the potential effects on rural communities as a result of impending budgetary cuts.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) is facing a 5.5% cut to its budget over the next twelve months, following on from a total of 12% cut to their budget over the past five years. Senior fire and rescue officers are now raising the alarm that these further cuts cannot be implemented without compromising public safety.Speaking after the meeting, UFU Deputy President Barclay Bell said: “I would like to thank both the Fire Brigades Union and John McCallister (MLA) for bringing these issues to our attention. The Fire and Rescue Service is something we often take for granted and it has been a real education to learn about the procedures and practices of their work and the effect that these potential cuts could have on their ability to carry out their job.”
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service budget accounts for around £78.2m, which is a minute 1.6% of the mammoth £4810.6m resource budget of the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety; and 0.7% of the total resource budget of the Northern Ireland Executive. Further cuts to the NIFRS budget could have a significant impact on the non-statutory services they provide, which includes water and animal rescue. NIFRS have also two teams who specialise in the rescue of large animals from slurry tanks.
Mr Bell continued: “We would be fearful that, should the budgetary axe fall on the fire service, rural communities would be the first to suffer. It is already the case that rural dwellers have longer to wait due to the longer distances to be covered and poorer quality of the roads. This would only worsen should the service be put under further pressure as a result of the budget cuts. Time is of the essence in responding to any emergency call and as such, it is of concern that precious minutes could be lost in responding to emergencies in rural areas. As well as this, the removal of the large animal rescue service could well mean that farmers may be more exposed to the dangers of slurry tanks, which are all too well known.
“The UFU and the Fire Brigades Union both understand that reform is necessary under the new budgetary constraints, but we are also both equally clear that we cannot afford to go down a short-term, cost-cutting exercise as opposed to longer term efficiency measures. Savaging budgets now will only create problems for the future which will require even more expenditure to fix at a later date. The UFU would therefore call upon the Minister for Health, Simon Hamilton to encourage creative and longer term solutions to the financial problems we face which will not compromise our public services in the long-term.”