Pre-consultation document:­ The future of Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service

Jane Basham, Vice Chair South Suffolk Labour Party (UNITE Member) responds to the pre-consultation document:

"I read the above document with care. I hoped that it might provide me with sufficient information in order to effectively contribute to the discussion on the safety of those who live, work and visit Suffolk.

I hoped that it might provide some data on the future growth in Suffolk’s population in and the potential additional risks that economic development may pose.

I hoped that it might provide more detail on the current service for all to see. That it might provide some explanations as to why people take to Facebook to express concerns about delays in the fire service emergency response times. Or perhaps some insight into why, locally and nationally we have seen strike action by firefighters and call centre handlers.

It is disappointing that the document did not provide any of the above.

What I read was a combination of political assertion and spin. The document infers that future cuts to our Fire Service are inevitable. It seeks to present these cuts in artificial language like ‘radical redesign’ This term was recently used to try and con the public into thinking that mental health services were actually being improved, when in fact services were axed and the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust is now in special measures. It involved vulnerable people in crisis being sent hundreds of miles away because local services are no longer available.

These cuts are not inevitable.

They are the result of political decisions and politicians preferences.

The document does not tell readers how much it would cost to keep the service as it is now. Of course as the document points out, national Government funding is being reduced – and possibly up to 40% more cuts are to come. The document is silent however on the Tory­led Council refusing to put up Council Tax in order to mitigate against these national cuts. There is no mention of the millions of pounds the Council has in reserves. Using reserves to fund core services is clearly not a long term solution. It is however an opportunity to say no to further cuts in the interim, to provide important breathing space – to secure safety, for the people of Suffolk.

The document offers platitudes about ‘partnership’ working. I didn’t see mentioned cuts to policing, particularly traffic policing, or the impact of the lack of investment and recruitment to our ambulance service and the loss of the National Police Air Service. All of these will impact on the work of Suffolk’s Fire and Rescue service. A perfect storm.

The document shows diagrams and selective percentages. I am not a qualified researcher but I’d say the trend – in terms of reduced need ­ that the document seeks to present ­ is unlikely to stand up to any scrutiny. The figures used would be deemed to be statistically insignificant.

If as your document infers ‘all is good’ – why then is the Police and Crime Commissioner calling for action to increase safety on Suffolk’s roads. http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/rising_road_deaths_a_very_great_worry_1_4149827

Those of us who understand and work with communities and who have spoken to people on the front line know that statistics can be meaningless. It is safety that matters to the people I have spoken with across the County (particularly in South Suffolk) ­ public safety and firefighter safety.

The document does not provide any information on the scale of or the impact of the cuts already wreaked on our Fire and Rescue Service. Nor does it provide performance information that would show regular failures in response times in our predominantly rural county, with dispersed settlements. This information would also show that on some days there are times when there is no emergency response vehicle available.

In a Facebook discussion from the community led Shotley Peninsula Facebook page, the following comments were posted:

‘We had a very serious fire in our piggeries in 1987 causing the loss of much livestock and two pig sheds .Then just five years ago,in identical weather conditions to now,hot and dry,on July 21st.2010,there was another very big fire which resulted in barley loss,many trees and land belonging to the National Trust Plantation etc. on both occasions,Holbrook Fire Service obviously were first on the scene,and especially re.the piggery fire,were instrumental in stopping it from being even worse than it was... Both these incidents underline the fact that on this peninsula,we must have a fire station/unit at all costs.’

And

‘We do need to keep our fire station. it dos't only serve local villages. I aided an accident at Freston Hill a couple of weeks ago. they rang 999 and they sent fire engines from else where that took so much longer to get there, whey they had one minites away.. that could have been the differance between life and death. think on please and keep it going.’

The document does not provide crucial information such as how many WT operational staff are on duty covering our County by day and night or the availability of On Call stations by day and night.

The document refers to a push for more volunteers – yet is silent on future staffing and training needs. I believe there is a role for volunteers in all sectors but they should complement­ not replace core jobs.

My suggestions, as requested in the pre consultation document are as follows:

  •  Challenge the Government on the County Council’s financial settlement

  •  Commit to holding a referendum on increasing Council Tax contribution

  •  Undertake and publish a comprehensive assessment of housing, other

    development and population growth and any other risks

  •  Provide access to more meaningful information on the service (historic and

    current day) from which the public can develop a more informed opinion

  •  Provide details of how the Council has engaged the public with this pre ­

    consultation and publish all responses (anonymised if deemed appropriate)

    People have said to me that they believe the Council already has a plan to deliver the cuts and that any consultation is simply a sham. Many have formed this opinion from direct experience – through trying to save their village school or keep their Children’s Centre open for example.

    I hope you will prove us wrong. That you will listen and work with local people, including those that work within the Suffolk Fire and Rescue service ­ to defend and not reduce vital public services.

    Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to comment."

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