By Lily Kitching
The London Fire Brigades Union has called a demonstration on Thursday 17 March to protest about fire service cuts in London. Ten areas in central London could see fire crews cut as part of a package of measures first announced last year.
The cuts include the closure of Manchester Square station, which is near Oxford Street — i.e. one of the busiest areas of central London. A number of neighbouring fire stations also face cuts — Westminster, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Euston will all lose a fire engine.
Watch strengths will be reduced at 32 stations which currently have two fire engines. The FBU say that a minimum of five fire fighters are needed per engine and at least nine are needed to deal effectively with a house fire. Under the cuts engines may run with four fire fighters, house fires be put out with less than nine firefighters. You would think that fire fighters would know about these important matters of safety, both for themselves and for the public. Apparently not, according to the Fire Service bosses.
These cuts in central London will run alongside reversals in some cuts made in outer London. In other words the London Fire Service is re-dividing resources. Yet these cuts come at a time when there are increasing responsibilities being made on the fire service — responsibilities for community education for instance.
There have been cuts in the fire service all over the country. In Greater Manchester 100 fire fighters were cut after changes in shift patterns. In Staffordshire fire engines were taken out. In East Sussex “modernisation” led to the loss of 12 fire fighters. In Merseyside crews have been cut. In West Midlands there are plans to remove 15 engines. In West Yorkshire there have been cuts in engines and the downgrading of some stations.
Firefighters in Cambridge are also facing job cuts, but they plan to take industrial action. 24 jobs across the county — including 12 at Cambridge — are due to be cut.
The FBU now plans to go to the regional committee and ask fire services in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire if they also support action.
These nationwide cuts come at a time when “regionalisation” of the fire control centres are planned. This, the management and Government say, has nothing to do with cuts. The union, understandably, thinks differently. Nine regional control centres will replace the many more, more local control centres. The scheme rests on having a state of the art IT system. Chronic failures with such systems in other government departments do not bode well. The FBU say the scheme has not been costed properly, will cost £1 billion, will involve job losses and will compromise safety.
- March against London fire service cuts on 17 March. Assemble 12 am, Ambrosden Avenue, SW1.