Brutal cuts to fire and rescue services being rushed through during the pandemic, union says

  • Plans include major cuts to fire engines and staffing levels
  • FBU says it amounts to a ‘betrayal’ of firefighters and the public

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 cuts was launched mid-pandemic.

The union has called out the Prime Minister and other government ministers for clapping key workers on a Thursday while turning a blind eye to brutal cuts to a frontline emergency service.

Firefighters have agreed to take on sweeping new duties to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including moving dead bodies, driving ambulances, and producing PPE, at the request of the government and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

But 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 (IRMP) drawn up by Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the coronavirus outbreak.

The proposals include major cuts to the number of fire engines, staffing levels, and nighttime fire cover.

The proposals include

  • Cutting 10 fire engines across the county from Battle, Bexhill, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven, Rye, Uckfield, Seaford, Heathfield and Wadhurst stations;
  • Cutting dedicated crews for high-reaching aerial fire appliance
  • Cutting wholetime staffing  levels across the county, particularly at stations in Lewes, Newhaven, Uckfield, Crowborough, Battle and Bexhill stations
  • Reducing night time fire cover at The Ridge fire station

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 rush through decisions on cuts to services whilst attention is elsewhere.

Since 2011, fire and rescue services in the UK have had 11,500 firefighters cut from their staff, and since 2013 have seen real-terms spending on their service slashed by 38%. 

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

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“The Prime Minister other government ministers are asking people to clap for frontline workers on a Thursday, while their policies continue gutting frontline services. It’s shameless hypocrisy.

“While firefighters are taking on sweeping new areas of work to keep their communities safe, they have 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 frontline services.

“We have entered national negotiations in good faith to help communities through this crisis. If politicians and the NFCC 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 services while the public focuses on the pandemic. If politicians think they are going to make public services pay for this crisis, then they are sadly mistaken.”

Simon Herbert, East Sussex firefighter and FBU brigade chair, said:

"Firefighters are out on the frontline helping our communities through this crisis whilst still responding to fires and other emergencies.

“Meanwhile, our fire authority has thanked us by beginning the process of decimating our emergency response capabilities and ability to save lives, all from the safety of their living rooms.

“These proposals are dangerous and will seriously damage the availability of fire crews throughout East Sussex. These proposals deserve proper public scrutiny – not an ill-thought-out consultation process snuck out in the middle of the pandemic.”

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