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Brutal cuts to Fire and Rescue Services being rushed through asserts FBU

28 April 2020

FIREFIGHTERS HAVE warned of a major threat to public safety as politicians and fire chiefs try to "sneak through" cuts to the Fire and Rescue Services while firefighters respond to the Coronavirus crisis. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) made the comments after a consultation on sweeping Fire and Rescue Services cuts was launched mid-pandemic.

The FBU has “called out” the Prime Minister and other Government ministers for clapping key workers on a Thursday evening while, suggests the union, “turning a blind eye” to brutal cuts for the fire service.

Firefighters have agreed to take on sweeping new duties to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, including the movement of dead bodies, driving ambulances and producing PPE at the request of the Government and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

East Sussex’s Conservative-controlled fire authority has decided to consult the public on sweeping cuts to the county’s fire service, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan drawn up by chief fire officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the Coronavirus outbreak.

The proposals include cutting ten fire engines across the county from the Battle, Bexhill, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven, Rye, Uckfield, Seaford, Heathfield and Wadhurst stations, cutting dedicated crews for high-reaching aerial fire appliances, cutting wholetime staffing levels across the county (particularly at the stations in Lewes, Newhaven, Uckfield, Crowborough, Battle and Bexhill) and also reducing night-time fire cover at The Ridge fire station.

Cover of the pandemic

The FBU has accused fire chiefs and politicians of using the cover of the pandemic to sneak through the plans and has warned the public that this could be the first of many attempts to push through decisions on cuts to Fire and Rescue Services while attention is focused elsewhere.

Since 2011, Fire and Rescue Services in the UK have had 11,500 firefighters cut from their staff, with real-terms spending slashed by 38% post-2013. 

In neighbouring Surrey, the FBU agreed to suspend planned industrial action such that firefighters could help communities through the crisis.

Matt Wrack, the FBU's general secretary, said: “The Prime Minister and other Government ministers are asking people to clap for front line workers on a Thursday, while their policies continue gutting front line services. It’s shameless hypocrisy. While firefighters are taking on sweeping new areas of work to keep their communities safe, they've been completely betrayed by fire chiefs and politicians. Frankly, we don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of this pandemic. Across the political spectrum, people are crying out that we cannot go back to normal and that has to mean an end to brutal cuts to front line services.”

Wrack added: “We have entered national negotiations in good faith to help communities through this crisis. If politicians and the National Fire Chiefs Council want that to continue, they need to step in and stop these cuts. This could be the first of many attempts to sneak through cuts to Fire and Rescue Services while the public focuses on the pandemic. If politicians think they're going to make public services pay for this crisis then they're sadly mistaken.”