MP slams ‘fundamentally dangerous’ fire service proposal

The Clwyd South Labour MP said: “Those of us who have campaigned and made written representations in the summer welcome the fact that more time was given before a decision be made. I have been working closely with Fire Brigade Union and local communities during this time – and we all want a workable solution.

“However, we cannot welcome any decision that might take away the second engine. I don’t believe in politicians saying things for a quick headline. To my mind, that’s not responsible and it’s not how I believe in doing things. What I am stating today is a basic fact – if the second appliance is got rid of, people who live in the South of Wrexham County Borough and on the A5 corridor will have their lives put in danger; and homes are more likely to go up in flames. That is the reality and it’s why another solution must be found.”

In a detailed submission to the Fire Service Consultation (see below), Susan Elan Jones MP also questioned the lack of cost-effectiveness in the current proposals.

The MP wrote:
“A three phase recruitment process has taken place at considerable expense for part time firefighters to fill this gap, however, these stations currently have not recruited enough firefighters for these roles. This, I understand, is partly due to unsuitability of applicants due to their residential locations or, those who applied did not meet the expected requirements for the role of Firefighter. Should these cuts come into force, I am concerned that Retained recruitment (and associated costs) would have to be ongoing as staff do leave the service, and they clearly cannot easily be replaced (hence the lack of crews presently). I understand that the cost of new staff salaries, (at approximately £2000 per year each plus turnout fees and drill sessions paid hourly for 3 hours per week) would mean for 30 extra personnel to staff 6 stations, the cost would be approximately £60,000 per year plus turnout costs / drills / training courses etc.

I am informed that for call outs to cover the Wrexham area, the retained staff receive a basic salary and a minimum hourly rate of £13 to attend incidents / standbys (equivalent to £55 – £70 per hour for a crew) and up to £100 per hour for appliance running costs etc. Should the second appliance be lost, other crews would then have to be brought in to cover the void left in their areas, possibly doubling this hourly fee. This is hardly cost effective, and kit plus initial and ongoing training would also have to be factored into this expense. It would appear that in order to achieve the £900,000 of required savings, more money needs to be spent, which clearly the Service do not have.”

• Cerith Griffiths, Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Wales, said: “Time and again, we have seen the impact that cuts to the Fire & Rescue Service has had on communities when they’ve been left without their local fire crews, whether that be through the closure of a fire station of removal of a fire engine. The FBU make no apologies for saying that removing this appliance from Wrexham will put lives at risk. Over the months we have seen how big an area this fire engine covers. Removing it will only increase the time we take to get to an incident, whether that be that a house fire or road traffic collision. Time matters and seconds count when members of the public face an emergency situation. The longer we take to get there, the more a life will be in danger. We wholeheartedly oppose all cuts to the Fire & Rescue Service and we are calling on the decision makers to do the right thing, oppose the removal of a fire engine at Wrexham and do not put lives in danger in this manner.”

SEE BELOW FOR FULL SUBMISSION FROM SUSAN ELAN JONES MP TO THE FIRE SERVICE CONSULTATION:

Submission from Susan Elan Jones MP for Clwyd South to the Fire Service Consultation

Dear Sir/Madam,
1. In a bid to save approximately £900,000 the Fire Service is considering removing Wrexham’s second appliance. In light of such a decision proceeding, I understand that all retained stations in the Wrexham area, including Johnstown, Chirk, Llangollen and Corwen (plus others such as Mold and Deeside) would have to be ‘on call’ permanently. Currently, I am informed that all of these stations are “off call” more often than “on call” due to a lack of staff. They are being covered on a daily basis by moving Wrexham’s appliance into these areas. This means that there is a part time fire station, a part time fire engine but no one available to crew the appliances for a large percentage of the time. In light of this, in order to save the £900,000 required by removing of Wrexham’s second appliance, the initial and ongoing following expenses incurred would inevitably eat into the savings required.
2. A three phase recruitment process has taken place at considerable expense for part time firefighters to fill this gap, however, these stations currently have not recruited enough firefighters for these roles. This, I understand, is partly due to unsuitability of applicants due to their residential locations or, those who applied did not meet the expected requirements for the role of Firefighter. Should these cuts come into force, I am concerned that Retained recruitment (and associated costs) would have to be ongoing as staff do leave the service, and they clearly cannot easily be replaced (hence the lack of crews presently). I understand that the cost of new staff salaries, (at approximately £2000 per year each plus turnout fees and drill sessions paid hourly for 3 hours per week) would mean for 30 extra personnel to staff 6 stations, the cost would be approximately £60,000 per year plus turnout costs / drills / training courses etc.
3. I am informed that for call outs to cover the Wrexham area, the retained staff receive a basic salary and a minimum hourly rate of £13 to attend incidents / standbys (equivalent to £55 – £70 per hour for a crew) and up to £100 per hour for appliance running costs etc. Should the second appliance be lost, other crews would then have to be brought in to cover the void left in their areas, possibly doubling this hourly fee. This is hardly cost effective, and kit plus initial and ongoing training would also have to be factored into this expense. It would appear that in order to achieve the £900,000 of required savings, more money needs to be spent, which clearly the Service do not have.
4. Losing Wrexham’s second appliance will also increase response times to second incidents within the Borough as oncoming crews will have to travel from outlying areas should Wrexham’s third appliance not be available as it is manned by a retained crew. Losing Wrexham’s second appliance will mean that the Environment unit, the Aerial Ladder Platform and the Technical Rescue Unit will have either delayed turnouts, or will not be available to turnout due to retained crews being not available, or crews committed to other incidents. This would also result in Wrexham having no whole time crew available should they be crewing the “specials” at the time of a second call.
5. Wrexham Fire Station will be facing increased pressure over the coming years with the Welsh Government anticipating a 20% increase in the local population. The opening of the new prison next year will tie up much needed resources and will clearly have an impact on the fire service as has been demonstrated on other prison serving fire authorities. This has been the case throughout the country where prisons require Fire Service attendance. I question whether the Fire Authority has fully examined the anticipated drain on resources from HMP Berwyn. I am seeking conformation that Mr Russ Trent, Governor of HMP Berwyn has been included in this current consultation.
6. Similarly, I am keen to gain confirmation that consultation taken place with the Environment agency (Natural Resources Wales). I understand that that their funded appliance (EPU) may now not be available. What consideration of the effect of the unavailability of the EPU has been factored into decision making?
7. Wrexham Fire Station already deals with 43% of all North Wales arson calls and a large proportion of the road traffic accidents across the North. In light of this, cutting the second appliance would undoubtedly result in delayed response times, where every second counts, this would be irresponsible.
8. The second appliance based at Wrexham, supports outlying fire stations at Johnstown, Chirk, Llangollen and Corwen at times when these stations are not available (off the run due to staff shortages). Without the second appliance, standbys in these areas would cease. This would clearly leave large sections along the A5 corridor without adequate fire cover. It is also used as their backup appliance should they have a serious incident and at times the first attendance appliance to these areas. I am seeking to establish that the Executive panel have asked all the pertinent questions in relation to this proposed cut back. For example, what impact would the cuts have on the operational availability in the surrounding area, including impact on retained stations and supporting appliances should the second appliance and crew be removed. What will be the projected impact on response times, can the delay be justified given the risk of high death rates which may result from the cut backs.
9. I am reliably informed that Wrexham Fire Service handles around 1,000 calls per year, which equates to roughly 25% of all calls across North Wales (total 4,000 calls this is covered by the 2 appliances currently in Wrexham. To cut one of the appliances would mean that one crew would have to deal with a quarter of all North Wales incidents. (The other 50 appliances would cover the remaining 75%). By the same applied logic and mathematics, North Wales would only need 8 appliances. Therefore I would argue that the proposed cuts in Wrexham are disproportionate to the number of incidents the station attends.
10. What consultation has been undertaken with neighbouring Fire authorities in Cheshire and Shropshire ? The removal of the second appliance at Wrexham will affect cross border incident availability. This in turn could affect whether Cheshire and Shropshire would need to amend their contingency plans for such events or consider changing their availability into North Wales areas.
11. Financially, has the Fire Authority looked at decreasing Upper Management and departments which have grown substantially while front line cover has been cut? In the late 1990s there was one chief and a deputy, now there is a chief, a deputy and two assistant chiefs with the third position currently vacant. On paper it appears uniformed personnel have been cut, however civilian staff departments have increased along with upper management under the guise of reorganisation.
12. I am informed that there is a concern that incidents which are currently not included in the statutory duties are being reviewed with a view to making cuts. Flooding (excluding life risk) is one area in question; because funding is not given by Westminster and Welsh Governments this service aspect could be cut. Flooding, drains and watercourses are within the remit the Council and Water companies, in light of this why are the fire service paying for this work if it is not formally funded? How will the consultation be assessing this aspect of value for money for the service?
13. More recently, Co-responding (of which there is an upcoming trial) and looking for missing persons are something Wrexham firefighters take part in. Surely if this service is to continue, there should be a reflective increase revenue streams. Currently the funding situation acts to ‘bail out’ the failing Police and Ambulance services because of shortages of staff. It appears incredible that at this time of serious budget restraints that the Fire Authority should allow other services to utilise the Fire Services for free.
14. I question the research and decision making logic that resulted these proposed cuts so soon after the fire service has just moved into a brand new joint Ambulance/Fire Service Station at an approximate cost of £15million. This is a state of the art facility intended to offer professional services to both the Fire and Ambulance Services. Why was this expenditure authorised given the depth of the current proposed cut backs? The facility was built thanks to more than £15m of joint investment from both services. In the event of cuts to the Fire service will this impact on the budget for this joint facility and will this then impact onto future budgeting for fire and ambulance services?
Thank you for your consideration of my observations in relation to this vitally important matter. Fire Service provision impacts on all our communities in the Wrexham area. I am extremely concerned that constituents of Clwyd South continue to be well served and protected by a fit for purpose, well managed, and suitably funded Fire Service. Finally, it is always salutary to remember that these considerations will directly impact on real people’s lives. To save money is useful and pragmatic, to save lives is invaluable, period.

Yours faithfully,
Susan Elan Jones MP