TUC ‘stands ready to assist FBU’ – O’Grady tells FBU conference

Hundreds march through Brixton on Thursday night to defend their fire station
Hundreds march through Brixton on Thursday night to defend their fire station

THE Fire Brigades Union yesterday angrily condemned the government-commissioned Knight Review of the fire service.

Ex-Chief Fire Officer Ken Knight recommends privatisation and mergers, suggesting – like Scotland – a single fire service for England.

He warned: ‘There will be an adjustment of numbers, of jobs, of people. The service itself must adapt and change.

‘So why have, even though those fires have gone down 40%, the number of firefighters remained broadly the same.’

He told the Today programme ‘increasing retained firefighters from 10% to 40% would save £130m’.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘The review of the fire and rescue service by Ken Knight is just a fig leaf for slashing our fire and rescue service to bits.

‘David Cameron has promised to protect frontline services. That has been exposed as a lie over the past three years as the fire service has faced the biggest cuts in its history.

‘It is not just the Fire Brigades Union warning about this. Increasingly others in the fire service, including Chief Officers, are concerned over our ability to deliver this essential service.

‘Fire stations are being closed and fire engines are being axed. Last year alone a further 1,200 firefighter jobs were cut.

‘All these cuts mean a poorer service for the public. They mean waiting longer for a fire engine if you have a fire or other emergency.’

In her address to the FBU annual conference in Blackpool, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said yesterday: ‘The review is effectively giving the government cover to embark on yet another round of damaging cuts to our fire service.

‘Central government funding is already being slashed by 25% and some 1,500 firefighter posts were cut in the first year of the coalition alone.

‘Response times are now two minutes slower than they were a decade ago. Across Britain nearly 70 fire stations are at risk of closure and many more are likely to be downgraded.

‘Cuts cost lives – every part of the country is at risk from this postcode lottery of cuts and closures.

‘Britain’s biggest cities are most affected by the cuts and nowhere more so than London, where 12 fire stations, 18 fire engines and over 500 firefighter posts are being axed.

‘Here, the Mayor is acting in defiance of the democratic decisions reached by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Boris Johnson’s cuts will put nearly five million Londoners at risk.

‘Now the £45 million saved might be peanuts to the Mayor’s banker friends in the City, but these cuts are a matter of life and death to ordinary people. The cuts are wrong and we will fight them every step of the way.’

In her speech, O’Grady also pledged TUC support for FBU campaigns against government plans to make firefighters work until they are 60, and against privatising the fire service.

She said: ‘These changes would introduce a fitness regime that is simply not workable, one which potentially discriminates against women and which could see thousands of dedicated firefighters facing the sack.

‘This is simply not acceptable and the TUC stands ready to assist the FBU in any way it can.’