Opposition politicians say they are "not surprised" but a critical report on Northamptonshire's fire service that highlighted lack of funding as one of the reasons it beeded improvement.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) judged that Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service ‘requires improvement’ at effectively keeping the public - and its staff - safe, in a report released this week.
A lack of firefighters, engines and funding were some of the reasons given by the inspectorate for the rating.
The fire service needs at least 14 fire engines available at any one time. However, the inspectors found that, over a short period in November, there were 'far fewer available engines than this', which they said was having a 'clear knock-on effect on response capability'.
The Labour Group in Northampton said they had been raising regarding the fire and rescue service in Northamptonshire for more than a year now following a meeting with the Fire Brigade Union.
In a statement, the group said: "The situation has not been improving with The Mounts Fire Station unable to respond due to staff shortages recently and the ongoing problems with recruiting retained firefighters, meaning that it is not unusual for a Fire engine to have to travel 30 minutes to a fire in the outlying parts of the county."
Councillor Danielle Stone (Castle, Labour Group Leader) says “I am not surprised by this report. I can echo the comment made by the Inspector Zoe Billingham who said there is a “legacy of underinvestment”.
"Underinvestment is a common theme in the county council and the fact that they are putting the lives of the people in the county at risk does not seem to bother them."
Councillor Gareth Eales (Spencer) added: “I have previously reported that Mounts fire station was unavailable due to no staff. I have also been told of fire engines going out without the full complement of Firefighters. It is not good enough that fire engines are expected to travel across the county as the initial response because closer stations are “off the run” do to not having staff."
Speaking after the release of the report on Wednesdya, chief Fire officer Darren Dovey, said: "We welcome this report from HMICFRS which has helped us scrutinise areas for improvement in our work to help keep the public safe.
“We are delighted the inspectors who revisited last week were impressed with the significant improvements we have made since their initial report, which stemmed from a visit last year while we were still governed by Northamptonshire County Council (NCC).
“We want the public to feel reassured we have listened to what the inspectors have said and, as such, earlier in the year we put in place an action plan to target areas for improvement.
“One area we have specifically targeted is that of the daytime availability of some fire engines in the county. We have now created a bank of available staff, which has given us the flexibility to send firefighters to stations that may require particular skills or expertise such as driving or command skills, increasing their availability to respond."
Mr Dovey added that "Given the financial pressures faced by NCC (Northamptonshire County Council), it was perhaps inevitable that prolonged funding constraints created challenges in certain areas of our delivery."