Open letter to Colin Noble, leader of Suffolk County Council, from Jane Basham (previously Labour Parliamentary Candidate South Suffolk), 21 February 2016.
Re: Fire Service Cuts
I wondered if it was pointless writing to you in response to your proposed cuts to Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. Last week the budget that contains the reduced funding for our fire service was voted through, so it looks like a done deal. However I feel compelled to do so as I believe in democracy.
As Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in May 2015 for South Suffolk I have had people from all over the Constituency make contact with me recently. They are really concerned that rural areas will suffer the most, when our fire service is already struggling to achieve response times.
Thousands of people from Sudbury and Cornard have responded or signed a petition. Many tell me the consultation document and the Integrated Risk Management Plan is leading and that the figures quoted have been used selectively. For example average data over a 5 year period is used to imply the Long Melford response is quicker than Sudbury. This is not the case for 2014/15 when Sudbury responds more quickly, but this is not mentioned. Neither is any account taken of the loss of a 2nd engine in Sudbury, meaning Long Melford would have to attend more calls. The consultation is silent on any assessment regarding Long Melford’s capacity to do so.
The proposed Rapid Response vehicle for Sudbury is in fact a red herring thrown in at the last minute as a result of the dreadful fire there last year. I believe this has been used this to try and hoodwink local people. It is shameful. My research into this type of vehicle (although there is not much detail provided in the document) shows that it can be an effective type of response in urban areas. It has not been used in rural areas and is a supplementary support, NOT instead of.
The report does not represent the true picture regarding what constitutes a fire and masks the real activity undertaken by our Fire Service. The document focuses on data of Emergencies, with no explanation of Deployment and the use of a second pump at a fire. So the 4,780 Emergencies referenced in the document, actually means 6,619 Deployments. This is a difference of 1,839 activities undertaken by our Fire crews across the county. Why was this not explained to the public in the document?
Response time targets already have a built in margin of not being able to make the set time. Other than in Ipswich, overall response targets are already being missed. Hadleigh only reaches the 1st appliance target 42% of the time, with Holbrook only 37% of the time. If they lose more engines and are reliant on retained support from Holbrook for example, how much longer might response times be? There is no assessment of this risk in the document.
The use of ‘averages’ in the document implies that we are all safer. Using the data in the document however, further analysis has revealed that during the last 2 years dwelling fires in Suffolk increased by 7%; fire casualties have increased by 70%; special service casualties have increased by 32%; special services fatalities have increased by 60%.
There appears to have been no rural proofing of the proposals. There is no formal assessment of growth of housing and industrial development. There’s Chilton Woods, Brantham and the cul de sac development in Shotley – to name a few. There is no reference to the increasing use of timber frame buildings in construction. The document comments on Suffolk’s unique timer framed buildings, but provides no evidence on how the additional risks posed by such buildings will be met by the proposed leaner service.
There is no mention of the impact of the loss of roads policing or the increases in road traffic accidents, including fatalities. Nor does it make any assessment of the impact of our failing mental health trust, leading to an increase in vulnerable people attempting to take their own lives - sometimes rescued with the help of our fire service.
I’d also like you to consider the impact of the persistent loss of local jobs as public services continue to be cut to the bone, and privatised. A fire fighter said to me. ‘I tell people that this is not MY job. Rather it is a good job; a skilled job and I’m looking after it for the next fire fighter when I retire’
Public sector jobs deliver key public services, regardless of ability to pay. They are paid for with our taxes and are accountable to local people. In turn they pay decent, not excessive wages and offer some security, including into old age, with decent pensions. They used to account for around 25% of the local job market a couple of years ago. What assessment of impact on the local economy of these jobs has been taken?
I’d like to think that you will take into account the points raised in this letter. All raised by local people who would not know about these proposals had it not have been for the fire fighters and committed members of the public. Other than a few hurried meetings, unrepresentative of local communities, your authority completely failed to reach out and engage local people in this consultation.
Despite the glossy Integrated Risk Management Plan we all know that these proposals are absolutely not about what is best and safest for the people of Suffolk. It is all about cheerleading through this Governments austerity agenda and destruction of public services; paring them down to the bone in order to sell them off to the private sector.
I urge you to stop these proposed cuts - they go too far.