On Friday 21st December West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority met to pass £7m worth of annual cuts to its budget including the closure of 6 fire stations and the loss of over 200 firefighter posts.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Labour Chair of the Authority, and leader of Kirklees Council, Mehboob Khan, replied to one critic’s comments that lives could be lost because of the cuts with the reply that was an ’emotional response’. All through the meeting Labour councillors completed senior fire officials on the plans and stated that there was no alternative. One Labour councillor, Gill Thornton from Bradford, rebuked a Lib Dem who tried to move an amendment, stating that he counldn’t criticise the cuts because it was ‘your governments cuts’, competely abdicating Labour’s responsibility for implementing these attacks. Another Labour councillor, said the options Labour and their opposition were offering were ‘two things that were wrong’.
In the end two Lib Dem councillors voted against the cuts, after losing votes over half-hearted appeals to suspend judgement for a year on local fire stations near them. This is a reflection of the pressure that West Yorkshire FBU and other campaigners, including the Socialist Party, have been able to mobilise, including 12,037 letters or e-mail opposing the cuts – as opposed to a mere 7 in support of or not obecting to the cuts. In addition to the around 500 signatures collected by Socialist Party members in Leeds over the cuts in general, the Socialist Party is also officially credited in the report with collection of 420 signatures against the closure of Marsden station and 381 against cuts to engines and staffing in Wakefield. In addition, the Fire Cuts Cost Lives blog, came under fire from one Labour councillor, a reflection of the scrutiny which that blog, and other campaigners, have put those responsible for these cuts.
This pressure resulted in 4 of the fire stations that were to be closed remaining open (Garforth, Hunslet, Morley, Rothwell), although they will be subject to lower number of fire appliances or staffing, whilst Haworth fire station has a two year reprieve. Other cutbacks went through, although not without some minor amendments to some of these, meaning that £3m less worth of cuts have been made. This shows the impact that campaigning can have.
But the fight must go on, as noted in the FBU submission to the consultation, most of the cuts passed last year have not yet been carried out, and these cuts still have to be carried out. The Socialist Party will be supporting campaigns by the FBU and local residents to stop these attacks.
But it is clear from both sets of cuts that the Labour-led authority is not even prepared to lead a half-hearted struggle against the cuts. The authority merely noted that they could increase their precept by up to £5 per head, whilst continuing to pass the cuts regardless.
But the Socialist Party is not in favour of forcing the cost of the cuts onto hard-up working people living in the area through above inflation precept charges. Given the massive sums of avoided and evaded corporation tax and over £800bn big companies are hoarding, the Socialist Party sees a mass campaign to demand the funding from the government to maintain a high quality, fully staffed and resourced fire service as being necessary. This should start with the authority setting a budget that reflects the real needs of the area, instead of accepting the government cuts as their starting point and risk management techniques that hope that the worst incidents don’t occur to claim the cuts will have no effect on services.
All the councillors on the Fire Authority should be challenged over how they have voted. No doubt trade union members who are suffering the brunt of the cuts in local government, the NHS and other public services will be angry at any union reps amongst the Labour councillors who voted for the cuts (as we note below, one is a UNISON branch secretary). But also, the Socialist Party believes it is essential to stand anti-cuts candidates in elections to offer the genuine alternative to both the Con-Dems and Labour, who instead of sacking firefighters and cutting services local communities depend on, would instead work with the FBU and local communities to fight these cuts.
List of Labour councillors on the Authority
Tracey Austin, Wakefield North, Wakefield
Joanne Dodds, Great Horton, Bradford
Ronald Grahame, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Leeds
Sharon Hamilton, Moortown, Leeds (also Unison branch secretary at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS branch)
Judith Hughes, Greenhead, Kirklees
Arif Hussain, Gipton and Harehills, Leeds
Mehboob Khan, Greenhead, Kirklees
Karen Renshaw, Ardsley and Robin Hoold, Leeds
Brian Selby, Killingbeck and Seacroft, Leeds
Bryan Smith, Ovenden, Calderdale
Gill Thornton, Royds, Bradford
Alan Wainwright, Tong, Bradford
Anthony Wallis, Castleford Central and Glasshoughton, Wakefield