The horror of the recent tragic inferno at Grenfell Tower in London has rightly aroused feverish attention about the state of high rise housing in 21st Century Britain. A slightly less examined element of the catastrophe and others that have taken place this summer was that of the role of our Emergency Services.
We almost take for granted that at moments like this our Fire Service, Police and Ambulance will be there for us. And indeed the Armed Police’s heroic and speedy response to the London Bridge Atrocity and the Fire Service’s bravery in the face of the Grenfell inferno was hugely impressive.
But the bravery and professionalism shown by our Emergency services should not make way for a complacency about the capacity of these services to continue to respond when required.
The full enquiry into Grenfell will take many months to weigh up evidence, but it is already clear that the response to the fire would have been less intense if it had occurred anywhere outside of London where fewer fire engines would have been available and the Fire Brigades Union themselves have suggested that the intensity of response that was available to fight the fire in the crucial early minutes after its first outbreak will have been less due to the 27 fire engines that had been cut between 2010 and 2017.
Since 2010, Britain has 10,000 fewer firefighters, and fire deaths rose by 15% last year.
But it’s not just our fire service that is stretched.
Britain has 20,000 fewer Police to call upon and many constituents have been disappointed on reporting a crime to get little more than a crime number in response. Our Police share that disappointment, but cuts have consequences.
Our Ambulance service has grown 14% slower than the demand for its service, and if you need an Ambulance for the most serious grade of life threatening emergency there is less than a three in four chance that it will be there in less than 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, as the demands on our Emergency services grow, year on year they are expected to accept a pay cut. For seven years public sector workers pay has been frozen or capped at 1% increase, which with an average increase in the cost of living of over 2,5%, means a pay cut every year in real terms.
I believe that the recent General Election should have sent a message to the Government about how much we value our Emergency services and public sector staff and I don’t believe that continued pay and service cuts are politically tenable or socially acceptable.
So, I will continue to offer my support for our Police, Ambulance and Fire Fighters, and this summer, I’ll spend time with each of the services shadowing them in pursuit of their duties. But I will also call on my political colleagues to offer them more than warm words, with a demand that they get the real investment in the pay, numbers and equipment that they need to continue to rush to our aid at the most serious of times.