Firefighters have called on MPs to support an amendment to the Queen’s Speech tomorrow (28 June) that will protect the fire and rescue service in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which represents the vast majority of firefighters in the UK, is supporting a Labour Party amendment to the Queen’s speech that calls on the government to halt fire service cuts and re-instate firefighter posts that have been previously cut. The necessary funding should be provided by central government to ensure this.
The fire and rescue service has suffered unprecedented cuts since 2010. This has resulted in more than 11,000 firefighters’ jobs being cut; more than 40 fire stations being closed and dozens of fire engines axed. As a result emergency response times are at their slowest for 20 years, according to the government’s own figures. The FBU has briefed all MPs today on the crisis facing the fire and rescue service.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “This disaster, that has so far cost the lives of at least 79 people, took place in a global, capital city with one of the best resourced fire services in the world. In other parts of the UK, fire services would, quite frankly, struggle to commit the same level of life-saving resources and personnel that London was able to.
“We have already seen the worst cuts in the history of the fire service but more are on the way. This is because central government has slashed funding to the fire service and these cuts feed through to stations closing, fire engines being scrapped and firefighter jobs being axed. It also means we are getting to fires and other emergencies slower than we did twenty years ago. The UK fire service is in a dire position and needs urgent investment.
“If the government is serious about addressing all aspects of this terrible disaster at Grenfell Tower then it should immediately insist that the cuts are halted and it should provide the necessary funding to ensure this.
“In an emergency, every second counts. For fire crews, that means having the right number of fire engines and firefighters at the scene of an emergency as soon as possible in order to do the job professionally. Cuts mean that fire engines are increasingly sent out without a full complement of firefighters. This understaffing prevents firefighters from adopting the best professional practices and procedures and will contribute to deaths that are avoidable. The requirements for firefighters and fire engines at tower block incidents are even greater.”
The FBU says that there is a range of factors behind the Grenfell Tower disaster but that cuts to fire services are an important element and reversing the cuts should be central to addressing public concerns.
A major concern the union has highlighted is the drastic reduction in fire prevention work. Since 2010 there has been a 25% drop in the number of Fire Risk Checks carried out by fire services in England.
The union has today sent to all Members of Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly Members and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly a briefing that details how the cuts have affected the service. You can download a copy here.