FBU members in Essex lobby fire chiefs ahead of this afternoon’s strike ballot result

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Firefighters are this morning lobbying members of Essex’s fire authority in a last ditch bid to stop a strike before it starts.

The FBU’s three-year dispute over cuts comes to a head this afternoon when the result of a strike ballot is announced.

But union members are hoping fire chiefs in Chelmsford will this morning see sense and open talks with them before a strike ballot is activated, possibly as early as next Wednesday.

FBU brigade secretary Mick Rogers said: “No firefighter ever wants to take strike action but if there is no genuine intention or positive moves to resolve the very real concerns of the frontline professionals then strike action becomes an ever increasing prospect.

“I’d urge the Fire Authority to wake up, understand the strong views of their own crews and kick start talks to resolve this dispute and protect frontline services.”

The FBU says the public is not being fooled by claims about fire service cuts because  council tax has gone up while they are waiting longer for a fire engine to arrive at a home fire.

Mick Rogers said: “Essex fire authority simply cannot go on targeting the frontline for further cuts. Further cuts would inevitably put the safety of the public and the remaining fire crews at increased risk.

“The drop off in response times clearly shows that frontline cuts impact on service delivery. The result is a bigger fire by the time we arrive, greater risk to fire crews and the public and more fire damage.

“There is genuine anger among the frontline crews about what is happening. The fire authority should be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue or about the outcome of the strike ballot due later today.

“We have repeatedly called upon the Chair of the Fire Authority, Councillor Hedley, to use his good office to remove the barriers to serious talks getting underway between the Fire Service and the FBU but to no avail.”

The budget for Essex Fire Service in 2008 was £70.6 million and in 2012 it has been set at £77.2m. The precept (the amount Essex Council tax payers pay towards the Fire Service) has gone up from £39.5 million in 2008 to £43.1million in 2012.

Combine this with the latest government figures which show that the time it takes for Essex Fire Service to attend dwellings fires has gone up from 6.7mins in 2008 to 7.9mins in 2010/11 (latest data available). It is a simple rule of thumb for fire crews that a fire can double in size in a minute.

The FBU warns the Essex public are bearing the brunt of cuts, waiting over a minute longer for a response when their house is on fire. The public in Essex pay more now in 2012 for their fire service than they did in 2008 but are receiving less of a Service.

In the same period 2008-12, the reserves held by Essex Fire Service have gone from under £4m to just over £12m. Spending on projects such as the new IT system regularly going over budget.

The number of frontline full time firefighters has been slashed by 100 since 2008, loss of one in eight. The number of retained ‘on call’ firefighters has dropped by 60 since 2008, a loss of one in ten.

Further planned cuts would bring total losses of frontline fire crews to one in five since 2008.In the same period of time, Essex Fire Service has increased back office staff by 7.5% – from 238 in 2008 to 256 today.

The targeting of frontline crews for cuts flies in the face of government claims that frontline services would be protected.


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