Unions react to fire reform plans

Date published: 13 March 2019

Cost-saving reforms planned for Greater Manchester’s fire service could pose a safety risk, leading unions have said.

A raft of measures including station mergers, support staff cuts and fewer firefighters riding on each engine have been unveiled by city region bosses this week.

Andy Burnham, GM mayor and fire commissioner, said the proposals will deliver a ‘frontline first approach firefighters have the right training, modern equipment and facilities’.

They come as the service is faced with making savings of £12.8m over the next three years.

However, workers union Unison has voiced concerns that the city region programme for change amounts to a plan for cuts.

“These are cuts which make the residents of Greater Manchester less safe; those residents who firefighters and our members come to work to help every day’, a spokesperson said.

And the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the move from five to four firefighters on each appliance goes against its national policy.

The move would not compromise safety, the mayor has said, and it reflects current practice in GM and across the country.

Gary Keary, FBU regional representative, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the union’s support of crewing five is for good reason, based on modelling for different incident scenarios.

He said: “The fact there have been terrible budget cuts and that has meant the service has not been able to adequately crew fire engines, that doesn’t mean that the FBU accepts that’s an acceptable number.

“The move to reduce the crew per engine goes against FBU national policy, it is five for good reason.

“The safety of firefighters and our communities are the Fire Brigade Union’s greatest concern.

“The union would be giving its views in the strongest possible way as the proposals go out to consultation”, he added.

Six stations in Bolton, Stockport and Manchester are scheduled to close to be replaced with three new sites.

Meanwhile, the number of appliances across the city region would fall from 56 to 47 as part of the plans. Second engines will be cut from Heywood, Manchester Central, Blackley, Moss Side, Oldham, Eccles, Salford and Gorton stations.

Response times are expected to increase by an average of around 10 seconds, although they will remain significantly favourable to national averages.

And around 113 support roles are facing the axe.

Unison said they hope the public will support us in challenging cuts to the services that keep them safe.

The spokesperson added: “We are disappointed that what our members and all of our colleagues in GMFRS were told was a Programme for Change appears to be little more than a plan for cuts.

“Support staff play a vital role in GMFRS and our members deserve to be respected and listened to.

“We have been told that this is a consultation and we expect the Mayor, the GMCA, and the Fire Service management to listen to us and our members along with the FBU.”

Bosses say a number of measures have already been introduced to address common concerns, including a new shift pattern to improve work/life balance for firefighters and investment in station facilities.

Announcing the plans earlier this week, chief fire officer, Jim Wallace said: “These proposals outline some of the most progressive changes in the history of GMFRS but they are important ones to make sure we are a service fit for the future.

“This will put us in a position where we can continue to keep people safe, but also ensure that we are a sustainable, efficient service.

“There will be tough decisions to make going forward but all of this will be informed by staff feedback and with the use of a robust evidence base."

James Illingworth, Local Democracy Reporter

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