The Fire Brigades Union yesterday published an advert in national newspapers attacking the Coalition Government’s austerity measures with the slogan, ‘They Slash, You Burn’.
The advert was published as the FBU march on Westminster this afternoon to lobby Parliament.
The claims that fire cuts will lead to an increase in deaths have been met with shock from some corners with Andrew Haldenby, director of the centre-right think-tank Reform, calling the FBU’s advert “gratuitously offensive”.
The advert and today’s lobbying is in response to the proposed cuts to UK fire services and the FBU goes on to claim that around 6,000 frontline firefighters will lose their jobs between 2011-2015 – with almost 1,500 officers having already left the fire service.
The advert reads: “Any further cuts will mean fewer firefighters, fewer appliances and fewer fire stations. This would seriously endanger:
- “Our ability to protect the communities we serve.
The ad then concluded: “Fire service or funeral service? Let your MP know which you’d prefer.”
Real-term cuts amounting to 13%
Some of the half-truths stand out. For instance the claim that cuts of 25% were announced in the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 are technically accurate but mask the fact that the Government’s contribution to fire services is heavily supplemented by local council tax.
In real terms the cuts to UK fire services are closer to 13% over four years.
Frontline services cut by 6,000 due to cuts?
The author of the blog, Patrick Worrall, also cast aspersions on the figure of 6,000 frontline job losses due to cuts putting lives at risk.
Figures show that while 1,500 firefighters have lost their jobs since 2011 this is only partly due to cuts.
The number of firefighters has been falling since 2007 anyway from 30,581 to 29,064 by the time the comprehensive spending review was announced.
This slow reduction in firefighters has come at a time of rapidly decreasing risk due to fires in the UK – total fires halved from over 572,000 to 287,000 in the last seven years – thanks largely to the hard work of fire safety professionals and preventative community work of fire services.
One could argue of course that this figure could climb again if frontline firefighters continue to be reduced – taking important resources away that can be used to educate communities.
But it seems that at a time of rapidly reducing risk, Chief Fire Officers are struggling to win the argument to hold onto staff.
The Scottish Government took drastic steps this year in merging their fire services into one unitary authority.
Could cuts in England and Wales pave the way for a similar move?
Or an entirely different future could come to pass: one with combined emergency medical and rescue services where the skills of paramedics and firefighters become one.