Firefighters 'petrified' to speak out over service cuts
Firefighters in Devon and Somerset have been issued with a “gagging order” to prevent them speaking publicly about proposed cuts to the fire service, union officials claim.
The Fire Brigades Union says its members are “petrified” to publicise their concerns over proposals to shed 150 jobs and scale down three stations to part-time working.
The measures are in response to an unprecedented grant cut of £5.5 million, or 17 per cent , over two years.
Leading FBU officials are angry and say two recent documents issued to staff would not allow staff to display union stickers in their cars or appear pictured in uniforms on campaign leaflets.
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FBU chairman Bob Walker said: “They have never gone this far before in terms of an absolute gagging order – people are petrified to speak out.
“They would be saying that removing six fire engines from being immediately available means response times get slower.”
Last month, councillors at Devon and Somerset Fire Authority approved a 1.99 per cent council tax rise to plug the funding gap.
A corporate plan to meet further funding would see three of Plymouth’s seven crews go from “whole-time” working to “on-call”, as well as one crew in Taunton, one in Torquay and another in Ilfracombe.
Anger over the cuts intensified when Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) management distributed the controversial media guidance documents.
The guidelines say firefighters should not share personal opinions about the proposals as it is not in their remit.
Assistant chief fire officer Pete Smith said there were no restrictions on staff telling managers their opinions.
However, he added: “When a member of staff uses a sensitive incident to press their personal opinion, it may be viewed as that of the service and cause unnecessary anxiety in the community."