We are all at risk thanks to the Tories’ continuing fire cuts
02 Dec 2017As well as holding back investment in our economy, living standards and growth, it’s important to also point out that the Tories’ ideologically driven austerity also makes us all less safe.
One example of this is the cuts to our fire and rescue service.
Drastic cuts since 2010 have meant that people are being left running the service on a shoestring and that the UK fire and rescue service needs urgent investment.
The recent Budget was a chance for Phillip Hammond to at least rein in the damaging policies that have caused this to happen. Yet instead, we are now facing a situation where, when we have already seen the worst cuts in the history of the fire service, more will be on the way as part of the continuing austerity confirmed by Hammond’s recent Budget.
Since 2010, the Westminster government has systematically cut central funding to fire and rescue services across Britain.
The National Audit Office report, Financial Sustainability of Fire and Rescue Services, found that, between 2011 and 2015, over 30 per cent of central funding was cut from fire and rescue services in England.
This makes a mockery of Tory promises to protect the front line when it comes to our emergency services.
In terms of the years ahead, in February 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published its local government settlement, with projections for central funding cuts.
The figures showed that DCLG paid £1.089 billion in central funding to all the fire and rescue services in England in 2015-16, but it planned to cut this to £864 million by 2019-20. This was a planned cut of nearly 21per cent.
Additionally, local government settlement figures published by DCLG earlier this year, covering just metropolitan and combined fire authorities, show that planned central funding for fire and rescue services in England will be cut by 20 per cent over the 2016-20 period.
In a (rejected) amendment to the Tory government’s Queen’s Speech earlier in the year, and again in the run-up to this Budget, Labour made clear our belief that the government needs to act now to protect the fire and rescue service.
In particular, Labour is committed to recruiting at least 3,000 new frontline firefighters, but the Tories are refusing to provide the necessary funding from central government to ensure this.
When it comes to our emergency services, and indeed public services as a whole, the Tories have totally failed to understand that cuts have consequences.
While our firefighters do an amazing job, these unprecedented cuts have resulted in over 11,000 firefighters’ jobs being cut, more than 40 fire stations closed and dozens of fire engines axed.
As a result, emergency response times are at their slowest for 20 years, according to the government’s own figures, with official figures for 2015/2016 for example showing that 303 people died in fires, up 15 per cent on the previous year.
Response times to all types of serious fires also rose, in some cases by as much as one minute and eight seconds.
This is vitally important.
As Fire Brigades Union (FBU) General Secretary Matt Wrack has said, “In an emergency, every second counts. For fire crews, that means having the right number of fire engines and firefighters at the scene of an emergency as soon as possible in order to do the job professionally.”
Additionally, the FBU has explained that cuts mean that fire engines are increasingly sent out without a full complement of firefighters and that this understaffing prevents firefighters from adopting the best professional practices and procedures.
These will all contribute to deaths that are avoidable, since a report published by the Home Office in January this year confirmed that the number of people who have died as a result of fires in the home has increased.
Alongside this, there has been a drastic reduction in fire prevention work since 2010, with a 25 per cent drop in the number of fire risk checks carried out by fire services in England. Fire and rescue services are also spending 13 per cent less time on public safety campaigns and initiatives.
This is what happens when you prioritise cuts before public safety — cuts have real, human consequences.
In the months and years ahead, we need to make clear the real impact of fire and rescue service cuts on both firefighters’ safety and that of the public as a whole.
The government desperately needs to halt fire service cuts and increase the number of firefighter posts. Above all it needs to learn the lesson that you can’t keep people safe on the cheap.
* This was originally published at http://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ffd8-We-are-all-at-risk-thanks-to-the-Tories-continuing-fire-cuts