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Tory fire cuts make us all less safe

Dangerous Tory cuts to our fire and rescue service need to end, writes DIANE ABBOTT MP

AS well as holding back investment, 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.

A Daily Mirror investigation recently revealed that Britain's fire and rescue service is in crisis as regions of the service struggle with little or no cover after eight years of Tory cuts as part of the government’s ideologically driven austerity agenda.

We are seeing our fire and rescue service cut to ribbons, which the Fire Brigades Union has termed “the longest, most sustained assault on the fire service in its history.”

Specifically, between 2010 and 2015, more than 30 per cent of central funding to fire and rescue services was cut, according to the National Audit Office. Further cuts of 20 per  cent to 2020 have been set out in the Local Government Settlement.

Alongside these cuts, government deregulation, privatisation and outsourcing of parts of the fire and rescue service have undercut what should be a public service, owned and accountable to local communities.

This new investigation confirmed that, in the past 12 months, there has been a rise in fire-related deaths across the country and argued that firefighters have endured “one of their worst summers ever” as the results of the reduction in staff becomes clear.

Specifically, around 40 stations have been forced to close and many more full-time stations have been downgraded to part-time hours due to low staffing levels. Additionally, cuts in equipment have meant people are left running the service on a shoestring.

There has also been a dramatic loss of personnel, with one in five firefighter jobs cut since the Tories came to power in 2010.

Fire engines are being left locked up because there are not enough crew members to staff them.

Figures from the Fire Brigades union show that nearly 12,000 front-line fire- fighter jobs have gone since 2010. Scotland has lost 1,123 and Wales 267.

Across England, Tyne and Wear has lost 285, Cleveland 176, Humberside 208, West Yorkshire 572, Greater Manchester 700, Merseyside 386, West Midlands 455 and London 1,334, meaning that some regions have been left with little or no cover.

As Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack put it, “Tory cuts have devastated the fire and rescue service,” meaning that “we simply do not have enough firefighters left to keep people safe.”

This has meant that fire deaths have increased, as has the amount of time it takes fire crews to respond to an emergency. This matters because evidence shows that the longer it takes firefighters to get to incidents, the more likely it is that people will be injured or killed.

The Tories have consistently refused to recognise in recent years that cuts have consequences and this situation is a direct consequence of government cuts. This is what happens when you cut firefighter jobs and close stations.

Additionally, fire prevention exercises such as home safety checks have been reduced by a quarter over five years. Fire and rescue services are also spending 13 per cent less time on public safety campaigns and initiatives.

Home Office statistics show in the year ending September 2017, and excluding the 72 who died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, there was a 9 per cent increase in fire-related fatalities. Without Grenfell, there was 275 compared to 253 the previous year.

This is what happens when you prioritise cuts ahead of public safety. Cuts have real, human consequences.

We need to make clear the real impact of fire and rescue service cuts on both firefighters’ safety and the safety of the public as a whole.

More broadly, we need to get the message across that cuts do have consequences — not least for public safety — and that we need to invest in our future and end failed ideologically driven austerity.
    •    You can follow Diane at www.twitter.com/HackneyAbbott and www.facebook.com/DianeAbbott

 

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