Firefighters in Surrey launch a campaign of industrial action against 'dangerous' cuts

24 December 2019, 10:19

Firefighters in Surrey have launched a campaign of industrial action
Firefighters in Surrey have launched a campaign of industrial action. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Firefighters in Surrey have launched a campaign of industrial action in protest against "dangerous" cuts to the service.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will start working to rule on Christmas Eve, running for six months.

A total of 94 per cent of union members voted in favour of action earlier this month, on a 72 per cent turnout.

The action will include a ban on overtime and a refusal to stand in for "understaffed" senior roles as well as refusing to use non-operational vehicles, including the use of firefighters' private cars for brigade purposes.

The FBU said cuts include removing seven fire engines at night-time and axing 70 firefighter posts.

Lee Belsten, the FBU's Surrey brigade secretary, said: "We've done everything else in our power to stop these dangerous cuts and have no choice but to resort to industrial action.

"The council and fire service bosses have ignored the concerns of residents and the professional advice of their firefighters for too long.

"Underfunding has become endemic in the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, with bosses depending on the goodwill of firefighters in a failed attempt to meet basic standards.

"Our goodwill has run dry.

"We've had huge support from the community so far in our campaign and we ask that Surrey residents stand with their firefighters through this difficult period.

"These cuts will make all of us less safe."

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "The horrendous fires we've seen in recent years clearly have not resonated with Surrey politicians and fire chiefs.

"They don't seem to care about the safety of their residents in the slightest.

"Surrey County Council have insisted that the cuts are not financially driven, so we're calling on them to increase the staffing levels to crew all of Surrey's fire engines 24/7, rather than cutting seven engines to meet the current staffing level.

"Firefighters across the country stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Surrey.

"This is not the Christmas many firefighters will have planned for, but we must do everything necessary to protect our fire and rescue service."

A spokesman for Surrey's fire service said: "We are disappointed that the decision by the FBU is to go ahead with action short of strike, given the efforts being made by the service to establish a resolution to the current trade dispute.

"Action short of strike means that firefighters will withdraw from certain duties such as voluntarily undertaking overtime, crewing one of our trial vehicles, taking responsibility for their kit (personal protective equipment) and undertaking some training.

"We would like to reassure residents that we will continue to respond to emergencies and do everything we can to keep people safe. Overtime has been at an all-time low since August and we do not expect the withdrawal of this or other activities to have a significant impact.

"We continue to meet regularly with the FBU to try and resolve this trade dispute and avoid any unnecessary worry for our residents."