Firefighter numbers in crisis after chronic underfunding

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The number of firefighters in service remains to be significantly low despite a recent spike in posts. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) revealed that whilst fireman posts in the UK increased by 318 this year, this is not enough to overcome years of underfunding. The 1% increase means there are still nearly 11,500 fewer UK firefighters than in 2010. The FBU say they urgently call for the government to fund firefighter recruitment and to reverse a decade of severe cuts to fire and rescue services. 

Across the UK, there has been a 19% cut in frontline firefighters since the Conservatives took office in 2010, with firefighter numbers being cut in every brigade in the UK. Overall spending on UK fire and rescue services has fallen by 38% since 2005.

In England, firefighter numbers have been cut by 21% since 2010, despite a 1% increase this year, with recruitment concentrated in London and the North West. Central government funding for English fire and rescue services has been cut by 30% in cash terms between 2013 and 2020. Meanwhile, firefighter pay has been cut in real terms by £6,705.69 since 2008. 

Image: FBU on www.fbu.org.uk

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said, “This shameless government is doing nothing to ease the pressure on overstretched and underpaid firefighters, all while making dubious claims of spending elsewhere. Fire and rescue services are in crisis after years of brutal cuts – and this year’s measly increase in posts is wholly insufficient to plug the gaps. 

 “We cannot allow firefighters’ life-saving work to go unrecognised. The Chancellor must fund firefighter recruitment and end the years of real-term pay cuts for firefighters. Our communities need more firefighters – and the government needs to reflect the work they do in their paycheques.” 

 In the local area, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has lost 292 firefighters between 2010-2019. This 31% decline greatly exceeding the 19% national average. The adjacent county, Northumberland also suffered a similar decline, with their firefighter numbers falling by 30%.

 The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service serves a resident population of 1.129 million spread amongst the 5 constituent councils of Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland in the North East of England.

The Tyne and Wear Fire service budget has been reduced by 19% since 2010/2011

 In their annual Narrative Statement of 2018/19, The Tyne and Wear Fire service stated that their base budget has been reduced by £11.3 million, or 19% since 2010/2011. They add that, in response to the local government finance settlement for 2019/2020 which was confirmed by the Government in February, the Authority continues to face a disproportionately greater reduction in funding compared to most over Fire Authorities.

The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service revealed that in response to the reduction in funding between April 2016 and March 2020, by the end of 2017/18 they achieved savings of £6.215million. However they added that more savings still need to be made, with the aim being £8.248million by the end of 2019/20.

In their 2018/19 Narrative Statement, the Tyne and Wear Fire service writes “It should be noted that the Authority has already made very difficult budget cost reductions that have impacted upon all areas of the service. Front line services have been affected, both in terms of reducing firefighter numbers and changes to the response model in operation.”

Indeed, during this period of funding cuts for the fire services, response times have risen. For primary fires, the average response time in England was last revealed to be 8 minutes 45seconds for the year 2017/2018, compared to 8m16s in 2010/2011. For Tyne and Wear, response times have increased at an even greater rate, being 5m43s in 2010/11 compared to 6m49s in 2017/18.

The cut in funding also comes as the number of fires in England have increased. Between 2017/18 and 2018/2019, the number of fires in England went up by 10%, going from 167,330 cases to 182,825. Overall, Fire and Rescue services attended 576,040 incidents 2018/19, a 2% increase compared to the previous year. 

 Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, continued:                              

“The Whaley Bridge dam collapse saw fire and rescue services stretched to the limit. Firefighters were pulled from every brigade in the region, and from as far as Chichester and London. 

“If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to invest in our frontline defences – and it is firefighters who are tackling wildfires and rescuing people stranded in flooding. Whaley Bridge will not be the last extreme weather event to stretch fire and rescue resources.” 


Last modified: 9th September 2019

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