Fire Brigade Inc

Cuts and outsourcing are part of the slow drive towards total privatisation of this essential service.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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The new wave of cuts sapping the morale of the fire service need to be read in the context of privatisation by stealth over a period of years.

Surrey fire and rescue service has already seen its workforce slashed by 17 percent, a loss of 131 posts between 2010 and 2018, and is now threatened with a further loss of 70 posts, meaning that over one in five jobs will have been pruned since 2010.

Hand in hand with this jobs cull, Surrey county council has been blazing the privatisation trail, experimenting with outsourcing some of the fire service’s functions.

In 2012, the council hired Specialist Group International (SGI) to provide a diving service, rope, confined space and swift-water capability for the fire service. The contract also committed SGI to supply strike-breakers in the event of industrial action.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) estimates that the bill for this scab army was over £1m a year. Cambridge fire and rescue authority similarly is using outsourcing giant Serco to compensate for posts that have been cut.

An even more costly outsourcing wheeze was the ill-fated attempt to scrap the 46 fire service control rooms and replace them with just nine regional control centres.

Key to the new control system, planned by the outgoing Labour government, was to be an IT system to be provided by a defence contractor called EADS. This contract quickly went wrong, going wildly over budget and failing to deliver the communications miracle that had been trailed.

The resulting shambles was only laid to rest when the government terminated the EADS contract in December 2010, wasting £469m and further sapping morale across the fire service. (Private money, public mayhem by David Wibberley, FBU, 24 February 2017)

Meanwhile, as taxpayers’ money is thrown away in this manner, the workforce continues to shrink and the service levels continue to erode as a probable prelude to full privatisation care of G4S or some similar outfit.

Currently, the favourite excuse for reducing staffing levels on the night shift is the fatuous pretext that more fires happen by day, “forgetting” the obvious fact that more people die by fire when everyone is asleep. From 2017 to 2018, over three-quarters of all deaths from accidental fires at home happened between 6.00pm and 9.00am.

Meanwhile, the average time it takes for a fire engine to arrive at a fire has since 1994 grown from under seven minutes to over nine, reflecting the systematic running down of this essential public service.