Government accused of "complacency" as hundreds of firefighter jobs cut in West Yorkshire
There are hundreds fewer firefighters in West Yorkshire than a decade ago, figures show, as the Fire Brigades Union accuses the Government of "complacency" over cuts.
With early weather reports predicting further hot weather in August, the FBU warns that the fire and rescue service across England is unlikely to be able to cope with wildfires like those seen during July’s historic hot spell.
The latest available Home Office figures show there were the equivalent of 983 full-time firefighters at the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service as of the end of March last year – 885 wholetime and 98 on-call.
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However, this was down from 999 a year before and 1,532 in 2011 – a fall of 36 per cent over a decade.
Dave Walton, Deputy Chief Fire Officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “There are always challenges facing any public sector service when it comes to balancing the books, and it is no different for fire.
“However, despite facing these challenges, the service has worked hard to ensure it provides the best possible service to residents in West Yorkshire to ensure safety has not been compromised.
“I would want to reassure everyone your safety is paramount to us and will always be prioritised.”
Using the latest fire service area population estimates for 2020, it means the rate of firefighters per capita in West Yorkshire has fallen from around 6.9 per 10,000 people to 4.2 over this period – the lowest rate in England.
The service has lost 350 whole time firefighters over the 10-year period, which is more than a quarter of their total and among the most in the UK.
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 per cent pay offer – which the FBU says equates to a real terms pay cut of around 7 per cent 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."