DEFEND THE RIGHT TO STRIKE – FBU responds to the latest State of Fire report

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FBU members striking in defence of the service in 2015

Responding to the latest State of Fire report announced by the chief inspector of fire and rescue services Sir Tom Winsor, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said on Tuesday that firefighters should have the right to organise together and democratically take decisions, including to strike.

The FBU stated: ‘Taking industrial action, with the option of removing labour, is an important way we can protect our pay, conditions and vital health and safety measures. This includes measures which help keep the public safe.
‘Indeed, given it is a direct way of challenging employer decisions it is one of the most important tools we have.
‘In his latest State of Fire report chief inspector of fire and rescue services Winsor said that there should be “a consideration of the removal of the right of firefighters to strike”.
‘This constitutes an attack on firefighters’ right to strike from a powerful establishment voice.
‘We know that the right to strike is an important right that helps protect public safety, amongst other things.
‘It helps us try to defend the fire and rescue service against changes that will damage the public, like when we went on strike in Surrey in response to the Integrated Risk Management Plan there, which proposed swathes of firefighter, fire engine and fire station cover cuts.
‘Since those changes did unfortunately go through after industrial action was halted by Covid, we have seen events including an elderly man losing his life when engines took 13 minutes to reach him – with a nearby fire station recently closed at night.
‘The alternative – not having the right to strike – means losing our most effective way of standing up to changes like this. It means simply trusting the government and employers to get it right. We know we can’t do that.
‘So we know it’s important. But if there were any evidence behind the statement in this new report we would be prepared to at least consider and respond to it appropriately.
‘This, however, is not the case. In the words of FBU general secretary Matt Wrack: “These conclusions have been reached without being based on evidence and rather appear to reflect the personal and political views of the author of the report.”’
In a letter to Winsor, Wrack wrote: ‘The union is dismayed by this political attack, which seems designed to silence the voice of firefighters and would do nothing to protect the public.
‘It is not clear how removing firefighters’ rights to democratically organise would help keep the public safer – in fact, having a fair structure where employers and employees can come together to work through issues, helps protect public safety.
‘If Sir Tom Winsor was serious about improving the fire and rescue service he might suggest putting back some of the one in every five firefighters which have been cut since 2010.’
Meanwhile, new figures show that the average response time for primary fires in England was 8 minutes and 43 seconds for the year ending September 2021, a slowing of six seconds when compared to the previous year.
This is the largest slowdown of response times to primary fires since between March 2014 and March 2015.
The FBU has identified the cause of this slowdown in fire response times as being the huge levels of cuts to the service.
The rise comes against a background of a general long-term slowing of response times. This statistic stood at 8 minutes and 6 seconds for 2009-2010, when the current recording system began.
Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the FBU said: ‘It is no surprise that response times are increasing – central government cuts are entirely to blame for this reduction in services and our communities deserve better.
‘Decades of cuts have resulted in fewer firefighters, fire engines and fire stations. The government is playing roulette with our lives and our properties.
‘This news sums up the last decade of devastating government cuts: we are being left for longer as our houses burn.
‘Until 2004, the mandatory national minimum fire cover standards meant that response times had to be fast.
‘The government of the day scrapped them and every government since has refused to reinstate them.
‘Slow response times mean more serious fires, more deaths, more injuries, more serious damage to your houses and businesses.’
Since 2016 around £140m has been taken out of the fire and rescue service in England, and since 2010 more than 11,000 firefighter posts – around one in five – have been lost across the UK.
The figures were released by the Home Office on 11 February 2022.
l The FBU has welcomed the call from the Members of Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee for groups and individuals to submit their views on the proposed Scottish Government Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Bill.
The published bill includes plans for :

  • Limiting the dates to when fireworks can be sold in shops to a total of 37 days a year based around holidays and cultural events.
  • Ensuring anyone using the types of fireworks to be regulated would need special training, and a fireworks license.
  • The provision of control zones to be established by councils, where most types of fireworks could not be used.
  • The police would have new powers to search for and seize fireworks.

FBU regional secretary for Scotland Ian Sim said: ‘We welcome this call for evidence by the Criminal Justice committee.
‘Every year the irresponsible use of fireworks causes fires, injuries and spreads fear in the community; it is our members who are put into dangerous situations trying to deal with the consequences.
‘This is a real opportunity to protect the public, their properties and the people who keep us safe. We urge all those who have been impacted by fireworks to submit their views to the consultation.’

  • North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service is facing having to borrow at least £25 million, equal to around 70 per cent of its annual budget, to fund new equipment and other spending, after the government abolished its capital grant for it.

Steve Howley, Fire Brigades Union North Yorkshire brigade secretary, said: ‘The government has left North Yorkshire fire and rescue service in a horrendous position – it’s abolished the entirety of its capital funding for it.
‘When coupled with the already desperate financial state of the service there will be serious implications.
‘The fire and rescue service is now struggling to buy the basics needed for our firefighters to protect their communities, and struggling to invest in its dilapidated buildings, many of which are unfit for purpose in 2022.
‘For example, we still have several stations which do not have adequate facilities for female members of staff.
‘The government needs to start taking fire and rescue seriously and fund it appropriately.’