Somerset Labour says “Tories are butchering Emergency services in the name of austerity”

Alexia Bartlett Labour candidate aims to unseat Tory Fire Authority Chairman in Huntspill ward

For the most frightening example of Con Dem cuts not only doing social damage but actually endangering lives, look no further than the emergency services budget, currently being butchered in the name of austerity.

Somerset’s Tories have enthusiastically pushed the Coalition’s slash-and-burn cutbacks agenda ever since Cameron and Clegg came to power in Westminster. They’ve cheerily slashed budgets, fired staff and nearly crippled vital services for two and a half years. Until now, though, they’ve not done anything so straightforwardly dangerous that it could risk lives. If the Tory’s latest cuts to the Fire & Rescue Service budget go through, that will change.

This week, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has spoken out against proposals that would see Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue lose 149 frontline fire fighters in a bid to cut costs. Taunton’s Fire Station would be particularly badly hit, losing half of its full-time fire-fighters, putting a greater burden on the already hard-pressed part-time – or ‘retained’ – personnel who will have to take up the slack.

Fingers pointing at senior county Tories

Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue service isn’t run by Somerset County Council. Instead, it’s controlled by the local Fire Authority, made up of elected councillors from all four local councils in both counties – Somerset County Council, Devon County Council, Torbay Council and Plymouth City Council.

That doesn’t let local Tories off the hook, however – the Chair of the Authority is none other than Mark Healey, Conservative County Councillor for the Huntspill ward (including Woolavington, Puriton, Cossington, Chilton Polden, Pawlett and West Hunstpill).

Speaking on BBC Radio Somerset on Saturday morning, Cllr Healey was unrepentant about his party’s biting cutbacks. Asked whether he agreed that the proposed changes would negatively affect the Fire Service’s performance, he said that “the evidence given to me so far doesn’t equate to that”.

Tory councillor keen to paint himself as ‘the fireman’s friend’

Protestors in Taunton 'not very impressed with the so called  'firemans friend'
Protestors in Taunton ‘not very impressed with the so called ‘firemans friend’

Cllr Healey was keen to paint himself as the fireman’s friend: “those that know me know how hard I fight any cuts that would affect the service” he said. “I’m the Fire Service’s greatest supporter and they know that”.

Taunton FBU Rep Wayne Withey explained how his fire station was already struggling to meet its emergency response times with two fire engines available 24 hours a day. If the Taunton station loses half of its full-time personnel, he said, it will have to lose one of those fire engines, making it even harder to quickly respond to life-threatening emergencies and putting public safety at risk.


Tory Chair says ‘government not going to listen to people saying it’s not fair’

But Cllr Healey also seemed to criticise those fire-fighters who warning of increased risk to public safety: “We need to save money. The government is looking for hard evidence. They’re not going to listen to people saying “it’s not fair!” or “I don’t want change””.

Cllr Healey wasn’t quite so mindful of overburdening the public purse last year, however, when he increased the allowances available to councillors sitting on the Fire Authority by 25%, earning criticism from fire-fighters’ leaders.The fire authority approved the allowances increase in February after Mr Healey cast the deciding vote.

Labour Town Council quick to respond

Leigh medal presentation
Labour candidate for Bridgwater South Leigh Redman with his Fire Brigade long service medal “Fire Service should be looking to enhance and support the frontline services.”

Somerset Labour was quick to respond to Tory hypocrisy. Labour-led Bridgwater Town Council quickly issued a formal response, written by former retained fire-fighter Leigh Redman. Leigh, standing in Bridgwater South in May’s County Council elections, argues that “in these times of great need, with increased floods and other natural disasters, the Fire Service should be looking to enhance and support the frontline services and not be looking to put members of the public at risk by delaying their emergency response!”

Labour’s Alexia Bartlett, the Huntspill candidate looking to unseat Healey on May 2nd, also hit out at the proposed Fire Service cuts: “It’s disgraceful that the Tories are playing politics with people’s lives. More than anything else they’ve cut back on so far, this could genuinely mean the difference between life and death in some cases.”

“Our fire-fighters are amazingly dedicated, but they have to work hard enough as it is – we should be doing everything we can to make it easier to save people’s lives, no put obstacles in their way. And by placing even more of a burden on retained fire-fighters, the Tories will make it even more difficult for them to balance their day-jobs with public service”.

‘Tory recklessness endangering vital public services’

“This is just the latest example of Tory recklessness endangering vital public services. It’s clearer than ever that we need to get the Conservatives out of County Hall – and the best way to do that is vote Labour on May 2nd”.

We have until April 26th to respond to the Fire Authority’s public consultation about their proposed cuts. Let them know Somerset values its Fire Service and opposes frontline cuts here (


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