Herts FBU Warns Of Savage Cuts

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Confidential documents passed to Hertfordshire’s Fire Brigades Union (FBU) show that confidential proposals have earmarked SEVEN more fire stations for either closure or downgrading, the FBU revealed on Monday.

The document suggests the current proposals may simply be the thin end of the wedge of major cuts across the fire service in future years.

The document calls into question the accuracy of a range of information given to elected representatives, the public and the fire crews themselves as part of the current consultation process.

The union is calling for the fire authority to come clean with the public and its own staff over its confidential hit list.

Herts FBU Vice Chair Tony Smith said: ‘The fire authority may try and distance themselves from this document now it is public and they have been caught out.

‘What they cannot do is deny the document and its contents are genuine.

‘This hit list shows that no community is safe from the threat of cuts and no fire station is safe from the threat of closure.

‘It suggests that current proposals are the beginnings of an agenda to rip the heart out of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.’

Smith added: ‘The cuts agenda is clearly far wider than the Bovingdon and Radlett closures and the downgrades at Watford and Royston that the county council are proposing this time around.

‘So far they have put forward a few proposals from this list, which stations will they be choosing next year?’

He stressed: ‘Our service works as a team and if you cut away at that team it will impact everywhere in Hertfordshire, not only in the immediate vicinity of a closed or cut station.

‘Going ahead with this huge raft of cuts will harm our ability to respond to the full range of emergencies across Hertfordshire.

‘To continue to claim that savage cuts will “make Hertfordshire safer” is simply unbelievable.

‘This is simply about saving money.’

Hertfordshire FBU says the confidential fire authority document shows, apart from the publicly known threats to close Bovingdon and Radlett stations, that retained stations at Bushey, Wheathamstead, Redbourne and King’s Langley are also on the closure hit list.

The closures would save £75,000 at Bushey, £79,000 at Wheathamstead, £80,000 at Redbourne and £77,000 at King’s Langley.

Hertford, Hitchin and Bishop’s Stortford are also earmarked for cuts to fire crews.

Hertford would lose twenty-one wholetime posts at a saving of £525,000, and Bishop’s Stortford would lose three wholetime posts to save £90,000.

Hitchin would lose five wholetime posts but gain eleven retained posts at a net cost of £4,000.

Hoddesdon and Harpenden would both gain seven wholetime posts but cut back on the use of retained firefighters at both stations at a net cost of £140,000 at Hoddesdon and £149,000 at Harpenden.

There would be a net loss of twenty-two wholetime and nineteen retained firefighter posts, a total loss of another forty-one frontline firefighters.

These are all in addition to the fifty frontline firefighter posts, station closures and downgrades that would be lost under the current proposals still out for public consultation.

Hertfordshire County Councillors are voting on the issue at a meeting on 28 March.

Herts FBU concludes: ‘Herts firefighters would urge the public to lobby their county councillors and urge them to reject the existing cuts proposals.’

l Buncefield firefighters demonstrated in protest outside a Downing Street reception on 1 March in protest at the swingeing cuts planned to the Hertfordshire fire service.

At that time, the proposals included the loss of fifty frontline firefighters, the closure of two fire stations and the loss of specialist rescue equipment.

All of the losses will be of firefighters and equipment at stations which were the first to respond to the fire at Buncefield.

The firefighters warned the losses will impact across the whole of Hertfordshire and cut the response capability to all emergencies.

The fact that the Buncefield fire broke out on a Sunday meant many workers on the nearby industrial estate were not placed in danger.

It has since emerged that there has been a sharp rise in business fire claims, which have topped £1 billion for the first time, according to figures released by the Association of British Insurers earlier this month.

A concerned FBU said the figures showed its warnings that fire and rescue service cutbacks and changes would push up fire losses should have been heeded.

Insurers paid out £790 million in 2005 in commercial fire damage claims, a rise of 60 per cent. There was an additional £220 million in business interruption claims as a result of fires.

The FBU pointed out: ‘The sharp rise coincides with the end of national response standards for the fire and rescue service in favour of locally based fire and rescue emergency response plans.

‘The FBU has called for a rapid re-shaping of national policy and an end to fire and rescue service cuts.’

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘The increase in fire losses and fire damage to businesses in the first full year of the government’s reforms is truly shocking.

‘These are people’s jobs and businesses going up in smoke, not just property losses.

‘We warned of the impact the cuts and changes would have. Business is now left counting the cost of these government reforms.

‘Our members are very proud of rescuing record numbers of people and saving lives, but we are now seeing a sharp rise in economic losses which often lead to a loss of livelihoods.

‘We must keep driving down the number of fire deaths, but we must also ensure that at the same time we protect businesses, jobs, homes and commercial property.

‘There must be a much wider appreciation of the value for money the fire and rescue service can provide and a move away from the narrow approach taken by government and the Audit Commission.

‘That needs a radical re-think in the government’s approach.’

Clearly it is time to pass from criticism to action to defend a vital service and the livelihoods of firefighters.

That means taking on and bringing down the Blair government and replacing it with a workers’ government that will restore all public services to their full capacity.