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Cuts, failing equipment and low morale in fire control rooms are crippling the fire and rescue service, a bombshell report from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reveals. Fire control rooms are where emergency calls are received and fire crews mobilised.

Losing Control? Cuts, Closures and Challenges in UK Fire Controls paints a bleak picture of life in a vital area of firefighting that often gets forgotten. The report reveals that more than 500 emergency control posts - a quarter of all UK posts - have been axed since 2010. The result is now chronic control room staff shortages. In 2015, 21% of shifts in Merseyside fire control did not meet their minimum staffing level of six operators. On some occasions, just four operators were on duty. Staff are having to put in a lot of overtime to keep the service running.

Some fire chiefs argue that cutting control jobs is sensible because new mobilising systems offer increased efficiencies, but these benefits have failed to materialize. One operator, who wishes to remain anonymous, recalls how management had promised a new mobilising system would cut down on work by 20 per cent. “All I’ve seen so far is the amount of work and stress on staff increase ten-fold”, she says. Other operators report of system failures so catastrophic that they were reduced to using a pen and paper and road maps to take down details of emergencies and locate them.

Many of the new mobilising systems have encountered significant faults after going live. Capita’s Vision DS mobilising system came in for some of the harshest criticism. At one point operators in the Dorset and Wiltshire control room, who use Vision DS, had to evacuate their workplace after the system was rendered useless having suffering ‘total failure’. Staff were transferred to a control room in Exeter over 90 miles away to take emergency calls. The FBU took the extraordinary step of issuing a written warning to every member of the fire authority warning them the system was not fit for purpose.

Unprecedented budget cuts coupled with persistent understaffing mean more fire services are adopting day and night shifts of 12 hours. Many members have found these shifts, which can start at 7am, to be disruptive to family life, unnecessarily inflexible and discouraging of diversity. Over 75% of control operators are women, many of whom have childcare or caring commitments. In some cases, it has forced mothers out of work.

Lynda Rowan O’Neill, secretary of the FBU’s Control Staff National Committee, said: “Control staff have been subjected to more than a decade of failed government policy, characterised by cuts, mergers and under-investment. We hope that this report will help fire and rescue stakeholders to better understand the scale of the issues and work with us to take action.”

- Read the full report at: www.fbu.org.uk/LosingControl

THE FIREFIGHTERS' DILEMMA

TUCG: MARK SERWOTKA ON THE FIGHT AGAINST AUSTERITY

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BOOK: COST OF LIVING CRISIS

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By MIchael Calderbank

Foreword by Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary

 

Buy now from www.radicalread.co.uk

Based on research commissioned by the TUCG, the book examines why costs have risen for all items of expenditure, ranging from housing and child care to food and transport. He makes practical proposals on how these costs can be reduced. He also delivers an uncompromising message to the leaders of all mainstream Westminster Parties: it is time to end the politics of austerity, an ideological project to cut the size of the state permanently.

FAMILY JUSTICE

New pamphlet on the effect of legal aid cuts on Family Justice.  Double click the picture below to dowload.

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THE GREAT PAY ROBBERY

 

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The impact of falling real wages, benefit cuts and soaring housing costs - with a foreword by Mark Serwotka (General Secretary, PCS).  Click image to download.

COST OF LIVING CRISIS

Cost of Living

 

 Click the image to download the new pamphlet from TUCG, looking at how the cost of living is impacting on working families, and what kind of measures are needed to really make a difference (with a foreword by Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary).