Issue date
17 May 2013

date: 17 May 2013

embargo: For immediate release

The government has commissioned Sir Ken Knight's report into the fire service simply to provide cover for a further round of damaging cuts to the fire and rescue service, warns the TUC today (Friday).

Speaking later today at the annual conference of the Fire Brigades Union in Blackpool, TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady will say: 'Sir Ken's report highlights that fewer people are now making calls to the fire service but this is mostly down to the preventative work that firefighters are doing out in the community. Further cuts will simply put all this valuable work in jeopardy.

'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 per cent 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, Frances will also pledge TUC support for FBU campaigns against government plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 and against privatising the fire service.

'With the Public Service Pensions Act now on the statute book, these are profoundly worrying times for firefighters who won't just be paying more and getting less, they'll also have to work for longer if ministers get their way.

'The government wants to impose a national pension age of 60 - despite there being no medical evidence to support the change, and no redeployment opportunities for older firefighters who face dismissal on fitness grounds.

'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.

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'And as if attacks on pensions and cuts to services weren't bad enough, firefighters are also facing the threat of privatisation. The government wants to contract out the entire Fire & Rescue Service, in line with the agenda set out in its Open Public Services white paper.

'The danger is that the planned 'mutualisation' of the fire service in Cleveland could be used as a test bed for the rest of the UK - despite opposition from local people in what is one of the highest risk industrial areas in Europe.

'The FBU is right to warn that privatisation will cost lives. Our fire service is not for sale, fighting fires should be about public need, not private profit. No-one wants these privatisation proposals, they would mean savage cuts nobody voted for and attacks on firefighters' terms and conditions that nobody supports.

'All of this from the nastiest, most ideological, most right-wing government Britain has ever had. Thanks to its failing economic policies, the average worker is now poorer in real terms than they were a decade ago, and as prices keep on rising, a generation of young people are growing up worse off than their parents.

'Ordinary people are being clobbered by a government that doesn't care, in an economy that is bust, in a country that can't go on like this.

'We need to build a nationwide alliance of unions, communities, students, parents, NHS patients and faith groups to reach out to everyone who shares our conviction that cuts are not the cure, and who wants to shape the political debate about where this country is going.

'In our recently-launched campaign plan which will shape our work in the run up to the general election and beyond, there are three top priorities - jobs, growth and reform of the banks, defending our public services and welfare state, and building stronger unions to win higher wages for workers.

'Britain needs a pay rise. That's the best way to get people spending, the economy growing and the deficit under control.

'We need to build a stronger, more democratic, more equal country for the long term. A country where what matters isn't how rich you are, or how well connected you are, or which race, gender or class you were born into, but a country which has decent work, decent services and decent living standards for all.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- The FBU conference has been taking place at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool since Wednesday. Today is the last day. Frances is speaking at 11.45am. Over the three days delegates from 51 brigades across the UK have been discussing the future of the fire service, government cuts and austerity, the dispute over firefighters' pensions, firefighters' safety as well as a host of domestic and international matters.

- The TUC campaign plan can be downloaded from www.tuc.org.uk/campaignplan

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @tucnews

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: [email protected]
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: [email protected]
Alex Rossiter T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07887 572130 E: [email protected]

Paul Hampton, FBU M: 07740 403240 E: [email protected]