FBU Investigation Exposes Government’s 13.8% Funding Cut in England's Fire Services Since 2016
It was only early in March that the Chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, unveiled the Government’s Spring 2021 budget to the House of Commons.
His announcement, which took place on March 3rd, was anticipated by many individuals, businesses and industries around the UK, all of which were concerned about what financial provisions were to be introduced, sustained and removed as the country made its first moves out of the ongoing national lockdown that had gripped it since last autumn. It goes without saying that many have been severely affected by business closures and social distancing regulations implemented in efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 over the past year.
Not least on this list is the emergency services, including the fire and rescue services; firefighters and other industry professionals have experienced a documented strain as a result of the pandemic. As such, professionals across the industry have been keen to find out how the Government plans to approach the ongoing funding of the fire and rescue services going forward.
Unfortunately, pre-Covid efforts to tighten the country’s purse strings left the emergency sectors particularly vulnerable as the pandemic hit. In fact, recent evidence uncovered by England’s Fire Brigade Union (FBU) shows the fire and rescue services have been cut by a huge £139.7m since 2016/17.
The analysis reveals a 13.8% total reduction in Government spending in the emergency services sector since this period — despite an increased demand for fire and rescue teams due to increased wildfires and flooding.
The increase in fire and rescue call-outs during the pandemic added an extra pressure to these services, and has meant the sector is under even more pressure and in need of more financial support as a result.
Industry professionals have since come forward to support this. Basil Jackson, Managing Director of Vemco Consulting (a UK-based engineering management consultancy specialising in fire safety engineering services) emphasises the importance of the Government “knowing its limits” when it comes to making cuts which impact the emergency services.
“The need to manage public spending has been the focus of successive Governments in recent times, and for good reason,” he begins.
“But, while cuts across the board may be necessary to some extent, for each public service there comes a point where there is no more fat to cut and core services start to be adversely affected.”
“In the case of the Fire Services, this impacts the ability to save lives in an emergency,” he goes on to say.
“Once lack of funding starts to have an adverse effect on the delivery of core services, the Government will have very little choice but to make more money available.”
Sunak’s Budget announcement outlined a preliminary spending envelope, in which initial financial plans for each sector were laid out. According to this proposal, the Government has said it will increase day-today spending across the UK’s public service sector by 2.1%. This is real terms, and is an annual figure, spanning from 2021-22 to 2025-26.
Although the Chancellor’s promises do come as slightly positive news, the Government has since failed to outline any objective spending plans or provide a cash value sum for any specific sub-sectors, including the fire and rescue services or the emergency services as a whole.
In response to this news, Basil Jackson urges the importance of the Government addressing these gaps sooner rather than later, in order to prevent further strain being placed on the sector and those working into it as Covid-19 restrictions ease.
“Extra spending arising from restrictions easing and the continued efforts to tackle COVID 19, as well as costs associated with Brexit will, no doubt, put further pressure on the public purse going forward” he states, and concludes by saying that “expects more cuts are to come.”