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Cuts: How they will affect Greater Manchester’s emergency services

By Stephen Sumner

As the Occupy Manchester protesters leave Albert Square, MM looks at the effect of the cuts they opposed and their effects on the city.

Fire service

The Greater Manchester fire service budget is set to be cut by £23m, forcing it to cut up to 250 jobs in the next four years.

The fire service will be slower to respond to callouts – but faster in other, high-risk areas, fire chiefs argue – as station services in Greater Manchester are reshuffled.

Unions condemned the plans as a “postcode lottery.”

The time taken for a fire engine to arrive in some areas will increase from seven minutes to 17.

This extra time could mean the difference between life and death, the savior or destruction of a family home – there is a limit to the effectiveness of educating people about the dangers of fire. Some accidents are inevitable.

Assistant County Fire Officer Paul Argyle said: “Where incident rates are highest – often in areas of social deprivation and high population – we will not only reduce response times but continue to put in greater community safety resources in order to reduce the number of incidents.

“In an ideal situation, we would build more fire stations but we believe this is the best deployment of resources given the current financial situation.”

Paul Fogarty, Fire Brigade Union secretary, said: “These cuts will impact their safety and have an adverse effect on the level of service we provide the public.”

Police force

Cuts to the budgets of frontline services such as the GM’s police service, mean that, should more riots happen – which in July were inspired by news of cuts – the people of Manchester would have to do more to fend for themselves.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is opposed to the cuts and said in August: “The case was always pretty frail and it’s been substantially weakened [following the riots]. This is not the time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers.”

Police reported the lowest crime rate in 11 years between July 2010 to June 2011, although the rate could not be maintained with a less visible police presence, a police force less able to respond to callouts.

In July, Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever said he had “no doubt” that cuts would lead to more crime. Without the threat of consequences, the temptation may be too great, as was the attitude of many during the riots. The response to the riots has been called disproportionate. Without the staff to make arrests, the proportions may be reversed.

Call-handlers have already called the ability to respond to 999 calls on Friday and Saturday nights, “woefully inadequate.”

Greater Manchester Police Authority was presented with complaints from call-handlers: “one day the wheel is going to come off.”

The cut in funding is due to come into force by 2014-15. Mr McKeever has claimed it could mean 20,000 fewer officers in service.

GMP bosses have said that the number of call-handlers and radio operators will increase from 677 staff to 700, despite £5.5million cuts.

Ambulances and hospitals

Last month, a 76-year-old Moston man had to wait 90 minutes after having a stroke.

The target is eight minutes – only 73.04% of ambulances reached this target in 09/10.

My Stringer asked David Cameron: “What reassurances can the prime minister give that the failure of those services will not lead to a tragic death?”

Mr Cameron said he would “look carefully” into the concerns.

The government has argued that the decision for spending the budget does not lie with them, but the regional emergency service bosses.

The aim was to cut bureaucracy but retain frontline services, but it is becoming clear that patients’ access to drugs, district nurses and walk-in centres is being affected.

The closure of the Ancoats walk-in centre has been delayed, but NHS Manchester still plans to move staff to North Manchester General Hospital.

The walk-in centre in Withington has already been closed.

Miles Platting and Newton Heath councillor Damien O’Connor said: “There is evidence that the walk-in centres divert around 40 per cent of patients from A&E so having a walk-in centre at the hospital is probably a good idea.

“However, we need to be satisfied that there is enough provision for local people – they have to take two buses to get up to the hospital.”

The government’s intention is to reduce the deficit by cutting spending. They are leaving the decisions – and the responsibility – to regional bosses of the various departments.

Councils have to cope with the budget they are given, but are pushed to save money behind the scenes, by cutting red tape, ending waste and adopting new strategies.

Yet there is only so far the money can stretch before cracks start to appear at the surface.

In the services that will be most greatly affected, these cracks are starting to show.

The plans are going to public consultation which will run until January 2012. 

 

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