As the flames of economic crisis spread across Europe, it is essential
public services such as fire and rescue that are now being cut as a
result. All 49 fire services across Britain have seen their funding from
the government reduced by 25% as part of the Tory-led Coalition’s
programme of austerity. Despite already having one of the most efficient
and affordable fire services in the country, Cambridgeshire is seeing
huge attacks on its fire and rescue services.
As the flames of economic crisis spread across Europe, it is essential public services such as fire and rescue that are now being cut as a result. All 49 fire services across Britain have seen their funding from the government reduced by 25% as part of the Tory-led Coalition’s programme of austerity. Despite already having one of the most efficient and affordable fire services in the country, Cambridgeshire is seeing huge attacks on its fire and rescue services.
Amongst these cuts are plans to reduce the number of firefighters in Huntingdon by 50% and forcing the remaining firefighters to work a 96 hour shift, with four consecutive days spent on call and “rest time” spent at allocated off-site accommodation.
Not only would these proposals increase the strain on the health and wellbeing of fire service workers, but they will also result in longer response times, as firefighters will have to travel from their off-site accommodation to the fire station when responding to calls.
In addition, 25% of whole-time firefighters are to be cut across Cambridgeshire, crew numbers are to be reduced in important towns in the county, and whole fire stations are to be closed down
Fire engine numbers are to be reduced in some areas, important equipment – such as turntable ladders that are needed to deal with fires at a height – is being removed, and vital units such as the hazardous materials unit and the operational support unit are being cut.
The result of all of these cuts is clear – firefighters will be put under immense strain and their ability to handle incidents will be extremely hampered. In some cases, these cuts will mean the difference between life and death.
As bankers get their bonuses and the rich see their wealth increase, it is vital public services such as healthcare, education, and fire and rescue that are attacked, and ordinary people who are left to pay for this crisis of capitalism – too often with their lives.
On top of these cuts to services, the pensions of fire service workers are also under attack as part of the wider attack on public sector pensions. According to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) website:
“At 11% of gross pay, firefighters currently make the highest contribution (along with the police) into their pension scheme of any public sector worker. The government wants to increase this to 14% of gross pay for firefighters and up to 17% for officers.”
“With national insurance rates rising to 12% in the immediate future it would mean firefighters seeing 26% of their gross pay being taken in pension and national insurance costs, before taxation kicks in.”
“A proposed move from final salary to career average earnings would mean officers would also be hit hardest, with the value of their pension greatly reduced. They would pay considerably more and get considerably less.”
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, said that, “The savings the government is hoping for are very likely to turn into much higher costs…Firefighters already pay a huge contribution for their pension. The proposals to increase this alongside the other changes are causing huge concerns and anger”
Workers in the teaching unions, civil service, and further education are showing the way in how to defend against these attacks on public services and pensions with the co-ordinated industrial action of the 30th June. It is time for the FBU to add their name to the list of those calling for co-ordinated industrial action and put pressure on the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to mobilise the labour movement for a 24 hour general strike against the government and its austerity programme. The labour movement is an unstoppable force when it moves. It is time for the TUC to put this force into action.
Visit savecambsfire.org.uk and www.fbu.org.uk for more details