Hundreds of frontline firefighters have been axed across the North as part of “dangerous” cuts – with another round of job losses on the way.
An investigation shows how more than 300 full-time firefighter roles have been cut in the North in the last four years.
And with brigades admitting there are hundreds more jobs still to go thanks to cuts in Government funding, campaigners claim “a tragedy is waiting to happen”.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been the biggest casualty, with the axe taking out 18.4% of staff, some 173 workers – 143 of them frontline firefighters.
Cleveland has lost 17.5% of its workforce – 110 workers including 100 full-time or ‘on-call’ firefighters, and one station has closed.
Some 56 frontline firefighters have been axed in Northumberland, but 12 ‘on-call’ roles have been created. Overall, the brigade is 49 people (11.4%) – and two stations – down.
Meanwhile, Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has lost 49 whole-time firefighters but has hired more ‘on-call’ and back office staff. It means the authority is 24 bodies lighter (4.1%) than it was in 2010.
The North East as a whole has lost 333 frontline firefighters – with that figure likely to double over the coming years.
Meanwhile Cumbria lost 16.5% of staff, including 30 full-time firefighters, while North Yorkshire is down 5% of staff, and 27 frontline firefighters.
Peter Wilcox, regional secretary at the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), said cutbacks put both firefighters and the public “at greater risk” with fewer resources to respond to potentially life-threatening emergencies.
He said: “Firefighters witnessed a decade of 2-3% year-on-year reductions to fire service funding leading up to the coalition Government taking office in 2010.
“Since this time the level of cuts have been unprecedented, with frontline services being hit by losses of 20% on average and further cuts of 7.5% planned by central Government for 2015-16.
“In real terms, we have seen fewer fire engines available to respond to emergency incidents.
“This level of cuts is not sustainable and places the public and firefighters at greater risk from fires and other emergency incidents.
“Despite David Cameron’s pledge not to cut frontline services prior to his party’s election in 2010, this is one pledge too far and has not been honoured.
“Firefighters across the North are saying enough is enough. Members of the public anticipate receiving the right level of protection and expect the appropriate response in their hour of need.”
As well as fighting domestic fires, brigades here in the North cover large industrial areas where blazes can fast accelerate.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said the cuts should be stopped before it’s too late. She said: “The massive cuts this Tory-led Government has inflicted on fire services are not only unacceptable, they are dangerous.
“With more cuts due, I genuinely believe that a tragedy is waiting to happen. This Government needs to think again and fund our fire services fairly.”
The figures are set to make even grimmer reading by 2018, with more drastic cuts planned – but local fire brigades reassured residents they will be protected.
Cleveland Fire Brigade said it needs to save a further £6m in the next four years, meaning 135 frontline firefighters will be replaced by 72 ‘on-call’ staff.
Chief fire officer Ian Hayton said: “Cleveland has been at the wrong end of the Government austerity cuts and tops the league table of authorities with the highest funding reduction at more than 13%. We believe these reductions are disproportionate.”
Six fire engines, 131 more staff and three stations will be lost as part of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s three-year plan of cuts.
The authority’s chief fire officer Tom Capeling, announcing the plan in January, said the move is expected to save £5m. He said: “There is no doubt that this continues to be a challenging time for the service.”
In Durham and Darlington, the brigade is looking to save £3.6m by 2018, but bosses said firefighters lost in the last round of cuts weren’t made redundant.
Chief executive Susan Johnson said: “The small reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters has been through natural wastage – planned retirements and leavers.”
Northumberland Fire and Rescue also said further savings may be needed in the next three years.
“However residents can be reassured that in the future we will continue to work with partners to provide high quality prevention and protection activity along with a well-equipped and highly trained workforce,” said assistant chief fire officer Steve Richards said.
Cuts over the last four years mean the North East has lost 13.8% of its workforce, higher than the national average of 11.2% and the third worst region in England.
Nationally, 5,124 firefighters have been lost, forcing an FBU Ring of Fire protest tour of England, including stop-offs at Redcar and Sunderland.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the union, said: “The cuts, in our view, mean the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was.
“It means, for example, people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 28 Sept 2014
Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.
Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.
John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.
“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.
“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.
“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014
SOUTH TYNESIDE –
There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.
All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.
Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.
Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.
There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.
The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.
COUNTY DURHAM –
Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.
Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.
In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.
Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.
On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.
A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.
“The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014
Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.
Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.
Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.
“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”
Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.
Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”
He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.
“We’re so pleased.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014
Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.
Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.
“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.
“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”
However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.”
GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.
“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014
Worrying new figures reveal the North as the fire capital of the UK.
As they face planned multimillion-pound cuts, brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest hikes in fire call outs.
The latest information, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, comes as union representatives in the area warn Government bosses to stop its “slashing” of budgets or face a “bleak future”.
Cleveland topped the UK league of shame suffering a worrying 41.5% hike in recorded fires between 2012/13 and 2013/14, rising from 2,634 to 3,728.
Durham was second with a 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388, while Tyne and Wear came in fifth with a 21.1% increase, from 5,321 to 6,446.
Concerns have been raised that current Government cuts to brigades across the region can only place the public at greater risk.
It comes in the week Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) lost two engines in a bid to save cash. One was axed from Wallsend fire station in North Tyneside on Tuesday, while Swalwell in Gateshead lost a vehicle on Thursday.
Earlier this year TWF&RS unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20% of front-line posts – in a bid to save around £8m.
Union bosses today said the service was facing an uncertain future.
Dave Turner, North East brigade secretary for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), said: “It’s a very bleak and grim picture at the minute. The only answer is to stop slashing fire service budgets as we are facing a horrendous situation. We’ve already lost two engines this week.
“A lot of the work we do is not even recorded in fire statistics; work in the community, prevention work. If we are working in a much reduced financial situation, how are we going to address these matters?”
Chris Lowther, assistant chief fire officer for community safety at TWF&RS, said: “Last year we saw a 21% increase in fires we attended, this was due to a 33% increase in deliberate secondary – rubbish/grass/wheelie bin – fires and an increase in some false alarms. All other fires continued to reduce.
“The increase, as the national report says, was because there was an unusually low number of outdoor fires the previous year. This was due to a much higher than average level of rainfall.
“Over the last five years we’ve actually seen the number of fires reduce by 23% and the number of deliberate secondary fires and accidental house fires reduce by a fifth.”
Cleveland Fire Brigade announced plans earlier this year to axe 114 firefighters as part of a package of cuts to save almost £6m.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the move, which also includes the closure of a fire station in Middlesbrough, would put lives at risk.
Today, the Brigade defended their position as number one on the UK list, claiming the figures cover two very different consecutive years and are not representative of the bigger picture.
Phil Lancaster, director of community protection for the Brigade, said: “Between 2012/13, we had one of our lowest years on record, particularly when it came to grass and bush fires, known as secondary fires. Remembering back to that year, we had one of the wettest periods for more than 100 years, consequently that had a big impact on the figures.
“Skip forward a year, and we had one of the driest spring and summers since 1976.
“When you compare the two years there seems to be a stark difference, but the wider picture is much different. For the first three months of this year, the figures have reverted to a more downward trend.”
Northumberland has seen a big rise in the number of people injured in fires – from 20 in 2012/13 to 33 in 2013/14 – the highest rise in the country.
A spokeswoman for the service said: “The service has carried out a full review of performance for 2013/14.
“The national statistics of 33 fire related injuries include 11 occasions when people were given only minor first aid or advised to go to hospital for a precautionary check-up.
“When looking at the figures for England and Wales, other than the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly, Northumberland has the lowest number of non-fatal fire injuries.
“Fire related injuries for the first quarter of 2014/15 in Northumberland have reduced in comparison to 2013/14.
“The Service remains committed to improving our performance to ensure the safety of the Northumberland Community.”
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw a 35.7% rise in overall fires, just behind Cleveland.
Steve Wharton, operational delivery manager for the brigade said: “We work with partners including the Police and local authority to address areas of higher risk from secondary fires. As well as local environmental audits, fire crew patrols, school education and additional police presence in key areas, bonfire, Easter and summer fire prevention strategies are in place to mitigate the number of secondary fires. As a result of this work we have currently had approximately 35 per cent fewer fires this financial year compared to the same period last year.”
In North Yorkshire the overall number of fires increased by a more moderate 9.6% while Cumbria experienced a fall, from 1,660 incidents in 2012/13 to 1,631 in 2013/14.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 July 2014