DURING the recent Fire Brigades Union strikes in London the fire service withdrew 27 fire engines from service and hid them away for use by the strike-breaking company AssetCo during the strikes.
But the last scheduled strike was called off a week ago, just before 5th November, for talks but the 27 fire engines have not been restored and remain at a depot in Ruislip.
Now the fire authority chief Brian Coleman is claiming that the absence of those 27 engines has made little difference to the level of service so they might as well by cut to save money.
Each fire engine in service has four shift crews of five firefighters so in total 540 jobs would be lost along with the 27 engines.
Coleman said the FBU action — during which the capital's emergency fire cover was provided by 700 AssetCo scabs using 27 fire engines — had highlighted an apparent surplus of equipment and firefighters.
The brigade has also been operating with FBU staff refusing to work overtime as part of their action against the threat of mass sackings if they do not accept proposed shift changes. London has about 5,500 frontline firefighters and 169 engines.
Coleman said: “We are really grateful to the FBU for showing us that there are possible efficiencies. The union has banned overtime for two to three months and London doesn't seem to have come to a halt.”
Brigade officers are due to report within a fortnight on the savings. The brigade is facing a 25 per cent cut in government funding — which makes up 60 per cent of its budget — over the next four years. It is understood that 260 firefighters are able to retire immediately, having completed 30 years' service. Other posts would be cut through two years of “natural wastage” and a continued recruitment freeze.
Mike Tuffrey, a Lib-Dem member of the fire authority, said: “In the very same week that the fire union and management are finally sitting down and talking it is truly extraordinary that Brian Coleman should produce this rabbit out of the hat' proposal. His badly-timed proposal will only fuel the worst fears of the workforce.
“The Mayor must overrule Brian Coleman and make it crystal clear to Londoners that next year's budget will not see any ill thought-out cuts to front-line fire services.”
A union spokesman said it vindicated their claims that cuts were at the heart of the firefighters' dispute and could result in up to 500 posts being axed.
Ben Sprung, of the FBU, said: "Coleman has denied our dispute had anything to do with cuts in the service for Londoners.”This proves that has been the agenda all along. He seems willing to put his vendetta against firefighters above the safety of London."
Coleman’s risk assessments are totally flawed and risk leaving Londoners in serious danger in the event of a major emergency. Like the fire extinguishers in most homes and workplaces, they may not be used for many years but when they are needed they must be there and in working order.
The FBU had already complained to Coleman about the failure to restore the 27 fire engines. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Government ministers and the London Fire Brigade abused us for proposing a strike on bonfire night. We cancelled that strike, and now they are withholding 27 fire engines from London firefighters and the people of London. It’s disgraceful and hypocritical.”
The 48-hour strike planned for 5th and 6th of November was called off at the last minute after the fire service management agreed to postpone – but not cancel – its threat to sack 5,000 firefighters and re-employ them only if they signed the new contract.
Since then negotiations have been under way but the threat to permanently cut the 27 engines and their crews makes a successful outcome unlikely.