A £100,000 cut to beach lifeguards will leave councillors with blood on their hands, union reps say.
Unison has slammed Brighton and Hove City Council’s plans to cut three of the city’s seven summer-long lifeguard stations. The extra three during the school holidays will remain.
The proposals are part of £14 million in planned cuts and savings as councillors look to close a budget gap.
As well as condemnation from Unison, which represents the lifeguards, a petition started to save the lifeguards highlights the lifesaving work carried out on the beaches.
The budget report to the Policy and Resources Committee last week, ahead of the budget council meeting on Thursday 23 February, acknowledges the cuts do pose a safety risk.
It said: “(There is a) potential increased risk to public safety, but busiest areas will still be prioritised and covered.
“(There) may be some negative reputational impact and potential increased demands on the lifeguard team caused by reduced staffing.
“However, the proposal is in common with most seaside resorts who only cover their main destination areas.”
A representative from Unison said the proposals would slash safety and leave large sections of the beach without coverage.
The budget report said it would be a 30 per cent cut, but staff say it would be more like half.
Richard Woolven who is the lifeguard’s representative on Unison said: “There are always tragic accidents, and even deaths on the seafront, and these cuts will increase the likelihood of these occurrences.
“If this is passed, it will literally leave councillors with blood on their hands. There are few decisions that councillors make that have real life and death consequences, but this is one of those.”
The petition titled Save Our Savers (Brighton and Hove) on the Change.org website launched by Justine Stephens on Sunday 12 February, had more than 700 signatures by the following day.
Her petition highlights the incident at Camber Sands, where five people drowned in one day on a beach where lifeguard service ended to save money.
Ms Stephens’s biggest concern is no lifesavers will be on duty during the summer at west Hove, Saltdean, Rottingdean and Ovingdean beaches.
The petition lists the work carried out last year:
- 79,000 preventative interventions on the beach
- 92 major incidents
- 38 water incidents (one every four days during lifeguard season)
- 11 mental health related incidents
- 48 lives saved (one every eight days during lifeguard season), including sea rescues, CPR and critical care.
Ms Stephens said: “A lifeguard is viewed as ‘nonessential’ until you need a lifeguard to save a life, then it’s vitally important.
“Proposals will, in particular, adversely affect Hove residents who stand to lose 66 per cent of last year’s service. Most beach users and hut owners won’t have a service to rely on.
“Lifeguard managers know the withdrawal of lifeguards will significantly increase the danger of drowning because vital preventative advice and early detection and reaction will be lost.”
A council spokesperson said: “On 23 February, councillors will set our budget for next year under some of the challenging financial circumstances we’ve faced as a city.
“We’ve lost more than £100 million in government funding over the last 12 years and are currently facing a funding shortfall of around £14 million.
“This means we will have to take some very difficult decisions.
“The current proposals would see more than £30 million invested in key services. But there will be some extremely difficult decisions to make on other areas of spending.
“We would emphasise that no decisions have been taken regarding funding for our lifeguards team for this summer and in future years.
“No permanent members of staff are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the budget proposal.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect vital council services. But we have a legal duty to agree a balanced budget.
“Councillors on our Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture Committee are due to consider a report considering future lifeguard service options when they meet in March.”
The budget council meeting is due to start at 4.30pm at Hove Town Hall on Thursday, 23 February. The meeting is scheduled for webcast on the council website.