The Fire Cuts Next Time

Last June, Nick Rushton and Sir Peter Soulsby announced their leadership of the Combined Fire Authority (June 5, Leicester Mercury). Shortly thereafter, both voted to ensure that seriously flawed proposals, which envisaged massive cuts to frontline fire-services, went out for public consultation.

Liberal Democrat fire authority member Councillor Mike Charlesworth has pointed out how both Rushton and Soulsby (Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum) “fully supported the original proposals, as did all the other Conservative and city Labour members” (January 27, Mercury).

Critically, this decision was taken against the vocal opposition of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), who explained that the proposed cuts would seriously endanger the public. The FBU subsequently made their own recommendations for a safe and functioning fire service.

The union made it clear that the Fire Authority’s so-called “Integrated Risk Management Plan” had cynically misused statistics about reduced number of incidents “as a tool for vindicating aggressive cost cutting and nothing more”. According to the FBU, no mention was made by the Authority that  ‘Rescues Performed’ had increased by 22% in the last 5 years. The union contines:

“This coupled with the enormous 50% increase in ‘Rescues Performed’ on Central Station’s area over the same period, demonstrates either incompetence by Leicester Fire and Rescue Service’s management for this huge oversight or; a deliberate ploy to mislead the public by not showing these crucial figures in the public consultation documents and events.”

Nevertheless, our firefighters continued to show good faith, and were “very keen to work with management to develop alternative proposals to save money, proposals that have been adequately assessed and can be achieved safely.”

Now, with the FBU’s recent success in pressuring Soulsby and Leicester’s Labour Councillors to reject the proposals under consultation, it became evident that the majority of the members of the Fire Authority would reject all the proposed frontline cuts.

Providing a way out of this impasse, Leicestershire FBU helpfully put forward 19 non-frontline alternatives that could be considered for any newly devised public consultation process. Meaningful dialogue with the public and firefighers on any proposed changes has always been key, and so the FBU asked that any new proposals should “be fully explored and developed before firefighters, Fire Engines, and Fire Stations are removed.”

Evidently not having learnt anything from their past mistakes, Soulsby and Rushton have decided to ignore the firefighters… again!

Apparently working in isolation from the FBU, the fire service management have, under instruction from Soulsby and Rushton, cobbled together another proposal which includes frontline cuts — although admittedly, not half as bad as those contained in their first ridiculous consultation document.

This new proposal states that we must still sacrifice one in ten of our regions firefighters. In addition, the Fire Authority are continuing to ignore the dangers of replacing fire engines with smaller vehicles equipped with, what the FBU describe as, “a hose that amounts to just a jet wash.” The new proposals suggest replacing four fire engines with these jet washes across Leicestershire.

Proposed fire service cuts in Leicestershire

In one instance, this involves getting rid of one of Loughborough’s two existing fire engines: an unconscionable and dangerous decision that has been consistently opposed (in previous consutlations) by both the FBU and the public. As the FBU pointed out only last February — that is, prior to Soulsby and Rushton’s assumption of power of the Fire Authority — even the Authority themselves rejected the necessity of making these cuts to Loughborough’s fire services.

The first round may have been won by the people of Leicestershire, but round two has evidently only just started.

This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on January 30.



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