Fire crews ‘sickened’ by politicians’ silence over fire cuts

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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says fire crews are ‘sickened’ by the silence of politicians over fire service cuts.

Politicians have been queuing up to question police cuts, but none have yet challenged the same cuts to the fire service, the FBU added in a statement.

The union has been inundated by fire crews complaining about the lack of opposition to major fire service cuts in the wake of widespread civil disturbances.

The strongest and most recent comments have come from fire crews working in areas of recent unrest.

Fire crews have made similar comments over recent years in the aftermath of floods, extensive wildfires and in dealing with extreme winter weather.

Like civil disturbances involving widespread arson, these incidents can tie up crews for protracted periods, sometimes months.

The last wave of cuts saw the loss of 1,000 frontline posts by April 2011. But ever increasing government cuts will see that rise to at least 6,000 by 2014.

The cuts are being concentrated on full-time fire crews in largely urban areas, some of which have taken the brunt of recent unrest.

The biggest cuts have happened, with more threatened, in Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the South West.

Recent civil unrest has shown how easily and quickly fire services can be stretched and struggle to cope. These disturbances, like others in the past, have seen widespread and major arson.

The FBU warns the fire service will also reach breaking point dealing with major incidents such as floods, wildfires and extreme winter weather.

These incidents are more frequent and can last for weeks and even months.

Andy Dark, FBU Assistant General secretary said: ‘Fire crews are angry and sickened by the silence on widespread frontline fire service cuts.

‘We are already stretched and struggling and that will only get worse.

‘It’s not only civil unrest that highlights the problems.

‘We’ve faced mass wildfires, terrible floods and freezing winter weather which stretched fire crews for weeks and even months.

‘Claims that fire services can fall back on each other and pool resources don’t stand up when the cuts are widespread.

‘The overall pool of frontline resources is being drained away and it will get worse year after year.

‘Pre-election promises not to cut frontline services have proved worthless.

‘You don’t get much more frontline than a 999 response and we’re being cut to pieces.

‘The police are facing the same issues, but at least this is now being challenged and there is public debate.

‘Why is their silence on frontline fire service cuts and how does the government expect us to cope with far fewer frontline crews in the years ahead?

‘We’re over-stretched and struggling now when we have to deal with a whole range of major incidents.

‘We’ll be at breaking point when the cuts really bite over the next two years.’

Central government grants to fire and rescue service budgets are being slashed by 25 per cent in the next four years.

The budget cuts are staged to get worse year on year – so called ‘back-loading’.

The job cuts – mostly losses through not replacing those who leave – cover whole-time, retained and firefighters in control. The heaviest losses are to whole-time firefighters.

• Artists will paint a real picture of the damage caused by public sector cuts at Unison’s Mobilise Festival in Edinburgh, alongside musicians, comedians and special guests.

The festival against the government’s cuts, which runs from August 13 to 20, will include daily debates, followed by live music and open mike slots.

Highlights include the launch of Dave Anderson’s new topical satire show, performances from Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a public speaking workshop with renowned author Denise Mina and cartooning with the Guardian’s Martin Rowson.

Comedy performances featuring Susan Morrison, Vladimir McTavish, Steve Day, Lee Camp, Bruce Morton, Phil Differ and Robin Ince, are also on the agenda.

Unison is opening up the majority of events to the public, although there are a limited number of places available.

Unison Scottish Secretary, Mike Kirby, said: ‘Edinburgh is a festival city, but it is also on the brink of the largest council privatisation plan ever to hit Scotland.

‘We know that this will have a devastating impact on local people who rely on these vital services and on the staff who provide them.

‘Mobilise is about bringing people together to prepare for action.

‘We must fight against the government’s savage public sector cuts and the Festival is a creative way to reach out and get more people involved in our campaign.

‘Mobilise is about celebrating high quality public services and fighting to keep them a priority.’

• The independent student guide Push’s annual projections of student debt forecast that English students starting university in 2012, when the cap on tuition fees rises to £9,000, will be in an average of £59,100 of debt by the time they graduate.

Will Seiligman, Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Student Finance Committee, said on Thursday: ‘The predicted increases in graduation debt contained in the Push survey are depressing, but expected.

‘Many current students are already struggling with the expense of their degree, especially those studying longer, costly courses like medicine.

‘The BMA estimates that most medical undergraduates are relying on around £15,000 worth of support from their parents during their five to six year degrees.

‘For the next generation of medical students the situation will be even worse now that the government is allowing medical schools to treble their annual tuition fee charges to as much as £9,000 from next year.

‘BMA research estimates that they could face debt of at least £70,000 – a huge figure that could deter many able youngsters from low and middle income families from applying to medical school.

‘We must not enter an era where your ability to become a doctor depends on the depth of your bank balance rather than the extent of your talent.

‘The government must do more to address the student debt crisis that we are heading into – or it risks failing the next generation of aspiring doctors.’

The National Union of Students noted that ‘students from across the UK starting this year autumn will graduate with an average of £26,100 and most worryingly nearly 25 per cent of that debt will be owed to sources other than the Student Loans Company and potentially on far more punitive repayment plans.’

The NUS added: ‘The survey also finds a large spread in projected debt with a gap of over £50,000 between the lowest and highest debt universities.’

Liam Burns, NUS President said: ‘The confusing shambles the government have imposed on students and universities has seen independent debt projections more than double in just one year.

‘The fact that the government thinks it’s OK to hang an amount of debt equivalent to a small mortgage over someone’s head while they study is one thing but leaving young people reliant on commercial credit just to stay in education is scandalous.

‘The case for full reversal of the coalition government’s fee regime remains, but even more urgently ministers must stop student support going to insubstantial fee waivers and instead invest in putting money back in the poorest students pockets.’