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Surrey firefighters suspend industrial action during COVID-19 crisis as changes to night cover come into force

4 minute read
Surrey firefighters suspend industrial action during COVID-19 crisis as changes to night cover come into force

Published by the Eagle Radio News Team at 2:21pm 31st March 2020.

The Fire Brigades Union has suspended a six-month campaign of industrial action short-of-strikes in Surrey during the coronavirus pandemic.

It said temporarily halting the action, which started in December, was to help support the community through the outbreak.

The move comes ahead of the first phase of the Making Surrey Safer Plan, which includes changes to night cover that led to the action, being implemented on Wednesday (1 April).

In a statement the union said phase one of the changes will result in four fire engines being cut at night, but that the service has provisionally agreed with the FBU to suspend phase two - which would see a further three fire engines cut at night - until at least April 2021, with both sides agreeing to continue negotiations.

All the changes had been approved by Surrey County Council at a cabinet meeting in September.

The union cited that decision came despite 68 per cent of respondents to an official consultation opposing cuts to fire cover, while just 18 per cent approved. More than 13,000 people also signed a petition opposing the cuts.

Jay Devey, FBU brigade secretary, said:

“Surrey residents have stood with their firefighters against these dangerous cuts and now firefighters have agreed to postpone their industrial action and stand with them against this deadly virus.

“The cuts imposed by Surrey Fire and Rescue over the last decade have unmistakably damaged our ability to respond to emergencies, but for now it is essential that we all pull together and do our bit to beat this crisis.

“We are pleased that for now, Fire service bosses and Surrey County Council have agreed to delay the second phase of the cuts, but remain bitterly disappointed it is still pushing ahead with the first phase of cuts on the 1 April - the FBU urges the council to scrap these cuts in their entirety or risk further endangering lives.”

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service said the Making Surrey Safer Plan will see more resources dedicated to preventing emergencies and was created following a risk analysis using data from 999 calls over the past 5 years about the areas of highest risk in Surrey.

They added that the analysis showed that the service had additional resources available at night and needed to put more into prevention and protection work.

Dan Quin, Deputy Chief Fire Officer said:

“These changes have been externally verified and endorsed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

“We will introduce the changes carefully, using an assured process to make sure they deliver the outcomes we need in Surrey.

“We would also like to reassure residents that we have extensive business continuity plans in place which are constantly being revised in relation to COVID-19.

“This includes monitoring our staffing numbers and vehicles 24/7 to ensure we provide emergency cover.”

Last week, the FBU reached an agreement with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and fire service employers, agreeing a national framework for fire and rescue services to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

If agreed locally, firefighters will be able to drive ambulances, deliver food and medicines to vulnerable people, and retrieve dead bodies.