02 February The Fire service both locally and Nationally is in crisis. The government has cut the funding to some Brigades of up to 25% including the West Mids Fire service which is one of the worst hit in the country. And trying to find 25% savings whilst still providing the emergency cover and service that the tax payer has come to expect is proving to be just about impossible. Something has to give – and that something unfortunately looks like its going to be Fire-fighters , fire engines and stations.
South Yorkshire FBU member makes his view of Fire Chiefs clear.
The t-shirt reads “The CHIEF wants to rip up our conditions of service”
There has already been massive changes happen to the service over the last 10 years thanks to New Labours modernisation programme. Efficiency savings were required year on year this has led to changes in shift patterns, reduction in staff, reduction in night-time cover, reduction in appliances, reduction in the amount of Fire-fighters on the appliance, reduction in what incidents we will attend…the list goes on.
Being a Fire-fighter means I have had to try and adapt to this modernisation of the service… and it hasn’t been easy. Management have sometimes struggled to explain the reason for some of the changes, especially when other Brigades have not followed suit. There have been many trade disputes in various Brigades around the country, usually over changes to our Conditions of Service. Essex, South Yorkshire, Merseyside, London and here in the West Mids have all had to take industrial action to defend our service. We are also starting to hear the R word more and more – Redundancy! We could be looking at the first ever compulsory redundancies in the Fire service from both Fire-fighters and Fire Control operators.
And on top of all this is the Governments attack on our pensions, pay more, work longer and get less! Just so you are aware, we pay 11% into our pension, the Government want us to pay up to 15%. And that’s on top of a 3 year pay freeze and over 5% inflation. People are seriously considering leaving the pension scheme. That’s just the Fire-fighters, Officers are being asked to pay up to 17%! And we are being asked to work 5 years longer, which means you could have a Fire engine turn up to rescue you and your family from your burning home and the Fire-fighters are all 60 years old!
Now I’m not saying all 60 year olds are not capable of providing a service , but how fit is a 60 year old Fire-fighter going to be? Especially after 35 years service. Is his/her back as strong as a 28 year old? Are their eyes as good? Their joints? Men’s muscles deteriorate after they are over 45. The Fire service has rightly increased the number of Female Fire-fighters over the years – but how strong are post-menopausal women?
It’s now easier for employers to dismiss employees on capability, magine being sacked at 58 years of age because you can longer physically do the job! So, with redundancies, no recruitment for several years, people leaving the pension scheme – what will the rise in pension contributions achieve? It will just about cover the deficiencies created by those points just mentioned and the Government is actually going to use the increase in contributions to help pay off the budget deficit – not put it into the pension pot!
London FBU strike rally
© Paul Mattsson
Privatisation has also crept into may aspects of the Fire service. Private companies now provide the fire kit, catering, training. But the biggest privatisation project was the doomed Fire Control project.
This was to reduce all the Brigades Fire Controls into 9 regional centres around the Country. Closing the existing Control rooms and transferring SOME of the staff to the new ones. And you can forget your existing Conditions of Service and pay – you must accept our new conditions and your pay will be slashed by £10,000 per year and we will not recognise your Union either! Welcome to New Labours world of privatisation.
But, the FBU and it’s members tried to warn the Government that it wasn’t going to work for many reasons. We tried and tried but they just kept ploughing on and then it started to struggle, going well over budget, IT issues that couldn’t be solved, deadlines came and went. Changes in management didn’t help, meanwhile around the Country, Brigades with ageing communication equipment were pressing for an answer to when it was all going to be up and running as they were starting to struggle and they couldn’t afford to upgrade their systems.
Finally, when the company trying to run the project missed yet another deadline, the Government pulled the plug. But not before the buildings were constructed and 500 million pounds of tax payers money had gone down the tube but it’s not ended there. It still costs £25,000 per week to rent these empty buildings from the company for another 25 years! If ever there was an example of how privatisation in an emergency service can fail at huge costs to the tax payer then this is it.
So what does 2012/13 hold for us? Well, new ways of providing fire cover is starting to creep in. Less Firemen, using a Land Rover Discovery with some basic equipment is being used on a trial basis. This concept is going live in several areas of the West Mids. The cuts leave the authority with little or no alternative really.
So much for the Government protecting front-line services.
What can you do? Write to your Councillor and your MP, make sure you have a working smoke alarm, contact your local Fire station and request a free Home Safety Check. These are just some of the things the FBU are encouraging the public to do.
And I will do my very best to try and fight the cuts that will ultimately lead to poorer service to the public.
Nick Harrison Fire-fighter & FBU Rep Coventry