Council to cut on-hand St John Ambulance staff from annual pantomime at Rickmansworth theatre

Watford Observer: Panto safe? Oh yes it is, says council Panto safe? Oh yes it is, says council

Pantomime audience’s safety will "put in jeopardy" as St John Ambulance staff will not be on-hand at a Rickmansworth theatre this year in an effort to cut council costs.

The move is an effort to save Three Rivers £2,500 after St John Ambulance decided to charge for the service, despite covering Watersmeet pantomime for free in the past.

The decision not to use the charity’s trained volunteers at the production of Sleeping Beauty has been criticised by district council politicians.

Rickmansworth conservative councillor, Paula Hiscocks, said: "I feel really strongly that the safety of our residents will be put in jeopardy.

"When I have been there for events we’ve had suspected strokes and serious falls and we would’ve been in difficulty without the help of the experts who really know what they are doing."

Cabinet member for leisure and community Keith Williams said Watersmeet staff are all qualified first aiders and theatre-goers will not have their safety compromised.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said: "We can provide an equivalent level of cover at a lower cost.

"I understand a number of voluntary organisations are being advised to charge by their national office but we’ve got a really good ambulance service locally and, if there was an emergency, I am sure it would be covered."

Councillor Williams added: "We’re able to provide the equivalent level of care at a saving to the council.

"I talked about it with the manager of Watersmeet and I’m fully satisfied we’ve got the necessary cover and there will be no additional risk."

This year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, starring the X Factor’s Jonathan Ansell, is already underway and will run until December 31.

Councillor Hiscocks added: "Organisations such as St John Ambulance teachers young people and helps them give something back to the community."

"If we don’t support them, who’s will? They’re part of the community and, even though we have to pay for them, it’s a small price to pay when we could be saving someone’s life or giving them expert treatment straight away."

Rickmansworth councillor, David Sansom, added: "I understand that alternative arrangements have been made, but the professionalism and dedicated of the St John members to public safety cannot be replicated by giving staff a short first aid course.

"In addition, the cadets that normally attend get a chance to support the adult members dealing with casualties and get invaluable experience."

Watersmeet, in High Street, is run by Three Rivers District Council.

Council spokesman, Kevin Snow, said: "We’re very grateful to St John Ambulance for all the support they’ve given the pantomime but, because we are able to cover it with our staff, we can’t justify the extra expenditure."

Bruce Leeke, regional director, St John Ambulance, said: "Our local volunteers have enjoyed providing first aid cover at the Watersmeet pantomime for many years and are disappointed not to be doing so this Christmas.

"This year, due to changes rolled out nationally to ensure the charity’s costs are covered, the council was provided with a price for our volunteers to cover its 44 performances. Whilst we understand the council’s decision not to go ahead with this, as a charity, we are unable to continue to offer our services at a loss."

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