Emma Lewell-Buck MP: Why cuts to fire services will put lives at risk

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Last week a consultation began on proposed changes to our local fire and rescue services.

This 10-week consultation asks for local residents’ views on proposed changes being considered.

They are being made necessary as a result of Government-forced austerity and cuts which will ultimately lead to an increase in response times in Shields and elsewhere.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been disproportionately hit by Government cuts.

It has faced the worst funding settlement across all fire and rescue services in England since 2010, amounting to real term cuts of £25million.

This has resulted in the loss of 285 frontline firefighter posts and the removal of six frontline appliances.

The proposals under consideration could see a loss of 70 more firefighters across the service and an end to 24-hour cover at some stations, including Shields.

At present we have two fire engines at Shields, one of the options being considered is reducing this to one between the hours of 8pm and 8am, adding 30 seconds to response times.

Anyone who has seen a fire knows how fast it can spread and how critical response times are.

But worse than this, if Tory cuts continue to at this pace in coming years, these response times will continue to increase.

At present, Tyne and Wear is one of the best performing services in the UK, yet our brave firefighters after years of austerity, are paid £6,700 less than they were 10 years ago.

Under this Government their pensions have also been eroded with younger firefighters having to work longer, pay more into their pension and get less out of the pot than previous.

Worse still, the Government is threatening to burden fire services with cuts of £100million a year to cover these pensions.

The Conservatives’ record so far has seen the loss of 10,000 firefighter posts - that’s one in six - and the closure of dozens of fire stations.

It’s putting lives at risk and letting the public bear the brunt of ill-thought-out policy decisions.

A future Labour Government would seek to protect and improve the fire service by halting cuts, recruiting 3,000 new firefighters, reviewing staffing levels, and consulting on national minimum standards for the service overall.

I have always supported our firefighters because these men and women risk their lives for us time and time again.

In the past 12 months alone there has been a rise in fire-related deaths across the country.

Cuts have consequences, and when it is cuts to services that literally save lives then the consequences are the most grave of all.

I am deeply concerned about the cuts to our local fire service and the impact of this consultation here in Shields.

As well as seeking an opportunity to raise this in Parliament, I have also spoken with the Chief of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, and am meeting very soon with the FBU (Fire Brigades Union).