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Leicester: Fire cuts cost lives
Leicester is facing some of the most severe cuts to the fire service in the country. You might be forgiven for thinking that we live under a Tory council, such is the scale of attacks on services in the city. However, the Labour mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, who sits alongside a Tory as vice-chair of the local fire authority, is pushing these cuts through.
A sham "consultation" exercise is currently being carried out to axe fire services by £1.5 million a year. In concrete terms, this represents a one-third reduction in firefighters and the closure of two local fire stations: Leicester Central, the busiest fire station in the city, and Kibworth, which serves a more rural and isolated population.
Response times would be at least doubled and with the fire service unable to provide an effective emergency response in the case of a large fire, lives will ultimately be lost if these cuts go through.
Leicester Socialist Party has been determined not to allow vital services to be slashed without putting up a fight. Last Saturday we were involved in organising a lively protest against the cuts, called by the local NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network) and attended by leading Fire Brigades Union and BFAWU (Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union) representatives locally.
We handed over petitions which we had been collecting for the past months; since the consultation process began.
We pointed out that service cuts are not necessary and would cost lives. In the short term, Leicester City Council has some £56 million in reserves, which could be used to keep services going, while building a campaign, rooted in local communities, to fight the cuts.
However, the Labour councillors locally have been completely unwilling to fight. The only party to put forward an unequivocal no-cuts budget has been TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). Barbara Potter and Wayne Naylor (ex-Labour councillors who joined TUSC, unable to stomach cuts to their community services) were both in attendance at the demonstration.
Some of the speakers pleaded with the public to pressure their councillors to vote against cuts. Barbara pointed out: "Where are they then?" - not a single one of Leicester's 51 Labour councillors were to be seen on the protest.
In order to save services, this rally needs to be the start of a mass campaign, involving a united fightback of trade unions and local people to save our services.
The jobs of staff in council libraries are under threat, as are hospital wards locally threatened with closure in a planned £400 million of cuts over five years. 200 hospital beds could go along with the possible downgrading of the General Hospital, with the loss of maternity services there.
If we are to protect decent services, we will need public sector unions to take joint action and we will need councillors who will refuse to carry through Tory cuts.
The alternative is the running down of services, which has been used in other areas to herald privatisation. London and Lincoln's fire engines were handed over to a private company, AssetCo, who three years ago sold them on to a private equity firm for just £2!
Similarly, Leicester's 'non-emergency' ambulances are being run by the private firm Arriva, who this July were scandalously responsible for leaving two elderly patients with a 10-hour wait.
We call for public services to be run under democratic, public ownership and control - they should not be asset-stripped or used to generate profit for big business.
Steve Score and Tessa Warrington of Leicester Socialist Party both pointed out that cuts and privatisation are not necessary or inevitable. Britain is a wealthy country. The PCS union estimates £120 billion is lost every year in tax avoidance and evasion by large companies and the super-rich - this is more than the entire NHS budget for England (£100 billion in 2015).
We need to build the socialist alternative, in order that the country can be run to meet the needs of the many and not the few.
Stop the cuts to Leicester's fire services
Monday 23rd November 2015
Leicester Secular Hall, 75 Humberstone Gate, Leicester LE1 1WB
Called by Leicester TUSC and NSSN