Recruiting and organising fire and rescue staff

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2019 Local Government Service Group Conference
13 February 2019

Non-operational fire and rescue staff are a key but often overlooked part of the fire and rescue service. Technicians, driving instructors, administrators and many others work tirelessly alongside fire fighters and control room staff to keep businesses, communities and members of the public safe.

The severe cuts to public spending in local government and their impact on fire and rescue services across the UK, but particularly in England, have been well documented. After eight years of funding cuts by Conservative-led governments, 40 fire stations have closed and nearly 12,000 firefighter jobs have been lost. This has led to an increase in response times to incidents and a corresponding rise in the number of deaths or serious injury caused by fire.

As well as the harsh impact of austerity on operational staff, nearly a decade of spending cuts has had a devastating effect on support staff. As they are often seen as easier jobs to cut than operational staff, fire and rescue staff are often the first in line for redundancies, which is reflected in Home Office workforce statistics: 69% of all compulsory and voluntary redundancies in the fire and rescue service in England since 2010 have been fire and rescue staff roles.

Introducing an opportunity for Police and Crime Commissioners to take over governance of fire and rescue services has also put fire and rescue support staff jobs at risk. This provision, introduced under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, was arguably created with the aim to make cuts within the fire and rescue service and encourage employers to share ‘back office’ resources, which would have a clear impact on fire and rescue staff roles.

These issues have all resulted in a steadily falling rate of membership amongst fire and rescue staff within UNISON membership and a fall in the number of activists who can support them. As the lead union for fire and rescue staff, it is essential that UNISON focuses on developing our membership of fire and rescue staff in the fire and rescue service and raising their profile within the union and more widely. Ensuring that there is increased awareness of the value of fire and rescue staff could help to challenge the misconception that their jobs are an easy cut to make within the service.

Conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1)Assess and update materials to support recruiting, retaining and organising fire and rescue staff

2)Work with UNISON’s regions and the Strategic Organising Unit to develop and implement a strategy for recruiting and organising fire and rescue staff

3)Work with the media, press and communications teams to increase the presence of fire and rescue staff in UNISON’s media and social media activities

4)Explore the possibility of holding a targeted recruitment campaign aimed at fire and rescue staff