SPIRALLING retirement costs could see more fire station closures and fewer firefighters, it has been warned. 

Cllr John Edwards, chairman of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority,  has also criticised the lack of dedicated funding for flooding following the recent severe weather which affected homes and business across the region.

His grim prediction of further cuts came as he told Sandwell councillors that he blamed the government for changes to the pension scheme which he claimed has left the fire service facing a massive bill.

Presenting the authority’s annual report to the council, the former firefighter said the service had seen an increase in its overall revenue funding of just over £2 million but warned unless extra money came from the Treasury in the future, more cuts were on the way.

“The problems is, this one year settlement,” he said. “The government has made it perfectly clear that there was no guarantee that this slightly better position will continue after the impending year.”

Commenting on assurances to the police and the NHS of more investment in future, he added: “But they have made no similar assurance to the fire service despite the difficulties we have had in the last ten years.”

He went on to say changes to the service’s pension scheme meant the West Midlands service had to find an additional £1.5 million a year plus an extra £6.2m in increased pension contributions.

“The government has picked up 95 per cent of that for this year but again they have made no guarantees they do that in future years,” he said. 

“If they do come to bear on the West Midlands Fire Service we could not find that kind of money without reducing the number of firefighters, probably through compulsory redundancies and decommissioning fire stations.

“We simply can’t find that sort of money from anywhere else.”

In answer to a question on the impact of recent flooding in the region, he said firefighters had done a magnificent job responding to calls for help from the public but added the government provided no additional revenue for such incidents.

“It’s a real disgrace and we have been talking to government about that and it’s certainly been an key issue for the last nine years I’ve been on the fire authority.

“We need funding to provide the crews and equipment to do that and it would be a real calamity if we couldn’t afford it.”