Thursday, 28 June 2012

The face of cuts to all our services

Fire and rescue services across the country are battling against cuts to front line services, being pursued at an increasingly aggressive and alarming rate.

Essex forms part of a region locally with Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fire and rescue services. Each one of these are facing or have under gone cuts to the frontline services with varying degrees of severity.

In recent action Essex voted overwhelmingly, 71% from a 75% return rate, to upscale their dispute to full strike. A decision not taken lightly but as a response to the total disregard for consultation and negotiation required by management over the aggressive cuts being pushed through resulting in a disregard for the safety of crews and members of the public in the communities they live and serve in.

It was a last resort and something no firefighter ever wants to do.

Brentwood station walk out.
Essex are not asking for more. This dispute is not about better pay or pensions, they are fighting to stand still, maintaining the current number of stations, fire engines and firefighters to crew these engines safely and protect the communities they live in and serve. In the case of the fire service, cuts cost lives.

Last week at the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) conference, Hertfordshire FBU Chair Derek Macleod announced that “Hertfordshire would not be crossing the boarder” in response to fire calls in Essex on any of the initial 5 dates announced, something that would severely affect fire cover in Hertfordshire if asked to do so. The first of which is to take place on June 28th.  They also pledged £5000 to the Essex hardship fund.

Hertfordshire face new ‘super’ stations called super day crewing that effectively see the return of the Victorian working days of a 96-hour working week, firefighters are expected to live on station for the duration. A 20% increase in a firefighters wage has been offered, but in reality this equates to a pay cut when compared to the hourly rate for being on duty this length of time. All this in addition to station down grading and job cuts.

Bedfordshire recently underwent a shift change resulting in crews working for 24 consecutive hours. The cuts agenda in Bedfordshire has seen the down grading of Toddington fire station from wholetime (full time) to retained (part time) plus a reduction in 36 wholetime posts being lost through ‘natural wastage’ (retirement). Natural wastage is the term being used up and down the country to avoid compulsory redundancy; however they are the jobs of the children born tomorrow that are lost forever.

Cambridgeshire FBU delegate Cameron Matthews reported how they are facing a new restrictive shift system fundamentally reducing their ability to take leave, something that will hit hard firefighters with young families. There is the prospect of losing 40 wholetime posts out of a current 180, 2 retained fire stations, 5 fire engines and 4 out of 5 special appliances. Some redundancies will be compulsory.
Cambridgeshire FBU members polled their local communities and found that 97% of 5000 people asked, are in favour of the fight to protect their service from the cuts attacks.

Paradoxically, whilst the government and local managers push through these savage cuts, they expect the same firefighters to take on additional tasks and responsibilities that fall way outside their remit, with no extra reward and fewer personnel and resources to do so, all in the name of resilience.

As Cameron Matthews stated “we still have life in us and our service matters to us, its time to make them hear us”. Our moment is now.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Double dip closures.

When the recession started in 2008 people remarked how quickly the high street in Dunstable was affected with a number of shops closing. Now in 2012 the grip of the recession is plain for all to see in Luton.

Whilst on the face of it the sight of the Mall and the new shop front would lead you to believe everything is OK, the inside paints a different picture. Rows of empty units and quiet aisles are the generic theme.

Familiar sight in the Mall

Over recent weeks and months a number of units in the Mall have closed or become outlet stores, so following the announcement that Clinton Cards was closing some 350 nationally, I decided to count up the number of units shut in the Mall itself. Currently there are 14 empty units with 3 more due to close including Luton's own Clinton Cards store.

Clinton Cards bids farewell

One area flourishing are coffee shops with there now being 6 in the Mall. We can always find time and money to sit and talk about the recession over a cup of tea or coffee; at least we have the Jubilee to raise our spirits.