Fire service leaders have today warned that mergers of fire and rescue services are being used to ‘mask’ deep funding cuts.
A leaked report into firefighters’ conditions of service calls for the government to fund more mergers in an effort to pool resources.
However, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the move is intended to divert attention away from a shocking decline in firefighter numbers.
John McGhee, FBU national officer, said: “To suggest that ‘ad hoc’ mergers of services will adequately replace more than 7,000 firefighters cut since 2010 is ridiculous and dangerous.
“Response times to fires are now at their longest for 20 years and there has been a 21% jump in the number of fire deaths over the past year.
“The Adrian Thomas review seeks to actively worsen firefighters’ working conditions. To make them work longer, harder and with lower levels of safety.
“The agenda behind this review is short term cost cutting at the expense of those who regularly place themselves in danger for the communities they serve.
“The government need to publish the full report immediately.”
The leaked report comes a week after home secretary Theresa May said it was a priority to tackle a culture of bullying and harassment within the fire and rescue service.
An FBU/YouGov poll of nearly 10,000 firefighters about their conditions of service revealed that the vast majority of bullying in the service came from senior managers to frontline firefighters.
Shockingly, of those who had been bullied 60% attributed it to senior managers, while a third blamed corporate management policy.
McGhee continued: “We want to work with the home secretary to stamp out all kinds of unacceptable behaviour in the service, which our evidence shows comes from the top.”
The FBU accused the government of hypocrisy after the report criticised the lack of diversity within the service. The union pointed out that one of the first acts of the Tory-led coalition government was to get rid of diversity targets for the service in 2010.
“This sent a clear message to employers that diversity was being downgraded”, McGhee said. “We warned them against it at the time.”
The union also said the removal of collective bargaining could lead the fire and rescue service into a convoluted and inefficient negotiation process, similar to that of the civil service.
The civil service has over 200 agreements with Whitehall departments, taking up an enormous amount of time to negotiate.