Dozens of firefighter jobs cut in Bedfordshire over decade
There are dozens fewer firefighters in Bedfordshire than a decade ago, figures show, as the Fire Brigades Union accuses the Government of “complacency” over cuts to services in the face of climate change.
With hot weather this month, the FBU warns the service across England is unlikely to be able to cope with wildfires like those seen during the historic hot spell in July.
The latest available Home Office figures show there was the equivalent of 409 full-time firefighters at the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service as of the end of March last year – 291 whole time and 118 on-call.
Though this was up from 402 a year before, it was fewer than 450 in 2011 – a fall of 9% over a decade.
Using the latest fire service area population estimates for 2020, it means the rate of firefighters per capita in Bedfordshire has fallen from around 7.3 per 10,000 people to 6 over this period.
The FBU said the Government and chief fire officers have “decimated” the service nationally, with almost 10,000 fewer firefighters across England last year than a decade previously.
Riccardo la Torre, FBU national officer, said: “That is outrageous complacency in the face of rapidly rising temperatures.
“Fire and rescue services should plan and prepare for foreseeable risk, yet it is clear they are not doing that.”
He said the wildfires caused by record temperatures in mid-July should have been a “wake-up call” for the Government, but there have been no major funding announcements.
Mr la Torre added: “Put simply, further heatwaves will result in more wildfires, and the fire and rescue service is unlikely to be able to cope.
“Firefighters face a climate emergency at work and a cost-of-living crisis at home.”
He said the recent 2% pay offer – which the FBU says equates to a real terms pay cut of around 7% over the last year – is evidence of the Government treating firefighters in a “disgusting manner”.
Greenpeace said there has been an alarmingly consistent increase in wildfires in the UK over recent years, and without government action this will only worsen.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at the environmental campaign group, said: “For decades, successive UK governments have fanned the flames of climate change, and the wildfires that come with it, by failing to cut emissions and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels fast enough.
“For the next Prime Minister, this, alongside tackling the cost-of-living crisis, must be their number one priority.”
The Home Office figures show that 2,431 men and women joined the national fire service in 2020-21 – down from 2,845 in the previous financial year.
In Bedfordshire, the number of joiners dropped from 47 to 40 over this time.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Government is committed to ensuring fire services have the resources they need to keep us safe, including from wildfires, and overall fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.5 billion in 2022-23.”