Local Fire Service Cuts: Risky But Not Too Risky!

Suffolk County Council (SCC) produced a tightly managed “consultation” in Lowestoft on Monday, 1 February on its plan to cut £1.3m from the Fire Service budget. Having learnt from previous meetings (on mental health cuts and community hospital closures) where mass anger had threatened to boil over there was no public debate. Instead small groups were invited to discuss the plans following a sales pitch from Mathew Hicks, the County’s Cabinet Member, and Chief Fire Officer, Mark Hardingham.

The plan is to close fire stations, cut the number of fire fighters and reduce the number of fire appliances. Wrentham Fire Station is to be closed and a fire engine lost in Lowestoft. It is estimated that about eight fire fighters positions will be cut in Lowestoft. In addition Fire Engines will be removed from Ipswich, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds as well as the one 24hr crewed engine.

Suffolk Fire Service is already finding it difficult to provide the current service. Attacks on fire fighters pensions and conditions added to the difficulty in ecruiting, training and retaining on call fire fighters (previously known as retained fire fighters) have led to fewer staff and, importantly, fewer experienced staff. Consequently fire crews are often understaffed and fire appliances out of action. Fears of mistakes and delays have grown. Road congestion has lengthened response times. Neighbouring fire stations cannot dispatch help when there is no guarantee that that station will have a functioning crew.

The huge fire in Sudbury last year showed how precarious fire cover already is in Suffolk. It took hold of several properties and a dozen families had to be evacuated. A woman was rescued from the third floor of a burning building. It needed fifteen fire crews and 75 fire fighters to bring the fire under control.

It took 15minutes for the first fire engine to respond to the call out and longer for the local Sudbury Fire Engine to arrive. Both are staffed by on-call fire fighters.

Councillor Hicks has an answer: “Incidents of this

nature happen very rarely “.

The recent fire on the South Lowestoft Industrial Estate found one of the appliances at Lowestoft South Fire Station without a crew and a call had to be made for help from over the bridge. Cuts will cost lives.

Another Phoney Consultation

The “consultation” offered no alternative to cuts. Tory Cabinet Mem- ber Hicks said that SCC had to cut and intended to cut. A Fire Officer, when pressed, said that of course the cuts were a risk, but an acceptable risk! LCAC chair Stephen Mynott proposed a vote on the proposals and was refused. Labour Councillor Keith Patience asked that the Firefighters’ Union, the FBU, be given a chance to speak. Local FBU Chairman Phil Johnson put a clear case against cuts and received a warm welcome and much applause.

Will the “consultation” make any difference? Hospitals have been closed, mental health services cut and the Town Hall sold off. Industrial buildings have been bulldozed to make way for speculative housing.

None of these things were wanted by the public but they were pushed through. Our pensions, our conditions at work, our benefits, our hospitals, all our services are being cut. We, the people who sat in Riverside Road Council offices, who were told that cuts will happen, are paying for the greed and irresponsibil- ity of bankers who caused the crash and the near collapse of the economy. The wealthy are getting wealthier while the gap between the rich and the rest grows. LCAC will continue to fight…

What You Can Do…

There is still time sign the FBU petition: https:/www.change.org/p/suffolk-county-council-cabinet-colin-noble-the-full-suffolk- county-council-should-vote-on-fire-cuts-not- just-the-cabinet-members

Fill in the online questionnaire:

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and- democracy/consultations-petitions-and- elections/consultations/fire-service-redesign/

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