Suffolk: Axed staff ‘to take on help scheme’

PUBLIC sector staff who were carrying out an “invaluable service” for vulnerable people in Suffolk have vowed to continue their work following redundancies.

The Homeshield Plus programme, managed by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Community Safety Team, was launched 16 months ago dubbed a “ground-breaking initiative” aiming to reach some of the most vulnerable people in Suffolk.

But the team of eight officers – tasked with helping to reduce fires, crime, accidents and other preventable risks – no longer exists after four were made redundant and the other four left in the run-up to the cuts.

Instead, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham has said the service will need to be delivered in a “different way” due to “changes in the level of funding”.

But Homeshield Plus officer Mike Tozer, whose final day was yesterday, has taken on board the Big Society mantra by coming up with a new service, a not-for-profit community interest company, to continue the officers’ work as well as improve it.


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Called Safety and Support Suffolk (SASS), the organisation hopes to maintain close ties with Suffolk fire service.

Mr Tozer said: “I’m going to carry on the service regardless. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. We have become that passionate.”

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He added: “Potentially it saves lives. It’s unquantifiable.”

Mr Hardingham said the eight Homeshield Plus officers had made 3,367 visits installing 4,780 smoke detectors and other equipment in the 16 months.

He said the county council remained committed to providing vulnerable people with the support and advice they needed to feel safer in their homes, but the project had come to an end in its initial form due to funding issues.

“We are now focusing on those areas that people found to be of most benefit from these visits and continuing to target these services to the most vulnerable people,” he said.

“The visits will initially be carried out by community safety staff already working for the fire and rescue service and firefighters.

“At the same time the fire service is establishing a Fire Community Volunteer scheme and is looking for volunteers both from within the fire and rescue service as well as across the wider community to support people in their area by carrying out these visits and other community safety work.”

But Mr Tozer expressed his concerns about volunteers taking on the work of trained officers.

He said: “I know they are saying they are going to provide the Homeshield Plus service in a different way provided by volunteers, but that’s my concern.

“I don’t doubt they can eventually do that, but it takes funding to do that.”

Homeshield Plus was jointly funded by Suffolk County Council, the fire and rescue service, NHS Suffolk, The Community Safety Partnership and Trading Standards.

Mr Tozer said SASS, which he hopes will be up and running this summer, had been set up with others from his Homeshield Plus team and more had said they were prepared to come back.

They are hoping to achieve about �200,000 of funding in the first year to cover costs.

“If we can get started, the initial funding, we are confident we can be self-supporting in two to three years and roll it out countrywide.”

To support SASS contact Mr Tozer on 01473 215160 or email mtozer@sky.com.

For more information visit http://safetyandsupportsuffolk.com.

mariam.ghaemi@eadt.co.uk

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