Almost every available Spelthorne firefighter and several from across Surrey joined Fire Brigade Union (FBU) reps, other trade unionists and anti cuts activists outside Spelthorne Borough Council (SBC) last night (23 Feb) in Staines. They were at a lobby organised by Save Our Services in Surrey (SOSIS) calling for a commitment from SBC to stand up against Surrey County Council and defend the current fire service provision of two whole-time, fully crewed fire appliances in the borough.
The lobby was part of an ongoing campaign by SOSIS which has seen large public meetings, a demonstration of 200 at Staines fire station, a growing petition and a lively day of action in Staines High Street on 18th Feb. Our campaigning had already led to a u-turn over the planned immediate closure of Staines fire station.
Until now, we had the support of the firefighters, the FBU, Labour, Green, Lib Dem and Socialist Parties, in a united call for NO CUTS in fire service provision.
This sadly appeared to change at the council meeting last night.
Labour councillor Susan Doran had a motion on the agenda, due to be seconded by Lib Dem Ian Beardsmore. This motion would, if passed, clearly commit Spelthorne to a no-cuts position in terms of the fire service - a position unanimously agreed by campaigners. Doran even stopped to speak to the protesters on her way in to the meeting asking us all to stay for the meeting and to 'back me up'. Neither Doran or Beardsmore nor any other councillors actually attended the lobby.
The council meeting got off to a bizaare start. A handful of Tory councillors used the 'minutes' section of the agenda to announce they were leaving the Tory Party and joining Ukip! Allegations of bullying and intimidation by the ruling Tory group flew around the chamber and the animosity between the defectors and their ex-colleagues was palpable.It was like a nest of vipers, biting at each other.
Then came the important motion - what the vast majority of the packed public gallery had come to hear. Cllr Doran moved the motion. The Tories had prepared an amendment which took out the specific call for both fire appliances to be fully staffed - effectively neutering the motion. Doran and Beardsmore were asked if they would accept this and... they agreed! This was nothing less than an abject betrayal of the firefighters and the people of Spelthorne who had put their trust in these individuals to lead the charge against the cuts.
This fiasco shows how important it is to elect principled councillors who will stand firm against the cuts. Many were saying, after the meeting, that SOSIS should stand anti-cuts candidates themselves. This is something we may have to consider though many of the Surrey trade union affiliates may need convincing if this was to be the case.
And from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
At the Spelthorne Borough Council Meeting on 23rd February, a motion calling for maintaining two fire engines in the Borough if the plans to build a new fire station go ahead, was agreed.
This was an improvement on the Surrey County Council decision taken in 2014 to replace the two existing 24/7 Whole-time crewed fire engines at Staines and Sunbury, with one Whole-time and one On Call in proposed new fire station at Fordingbridge. SCC made its 2014 decision in total disregard to the responses it received to its own Public Consultation, to which 92% of the responses demanded no reduction in fire and emergency service provision within the Borough. Importantly, the provision of the On Call fire engine was subject to the viability of recruiting sufficient On Call fire fighters which has since proved unachievable without extending emergency response times by approximately 12 minutes. Hence, the second fire engine option has since been dropped.
So the agreed Spelthorne Borough Council positon, was a step forward as it gave no option to cut the second fire engine under any circumstances.
The original motion was proposed by the Lib Dems to Spelthorne Borough Council but it was extremely disappointing to then witness the Lib Dem’s and Labour councillors accept an amendment from the Tories which removed the requirement in the original motion, for both fire engines to be crewed 24/7 with immediately available Whole-time crews, which was a U-turn on their position they told the campaigners they were supporting outside the council chambers immediately prior to the meeting taking place.
“Party political bun fighting is certainly not a recognised, robust or risk based approach to community safety or to secure emergency fire and rescue service provision.”
The final decision will now be made by Surrey County Council in March where we hope to see councillors do right by their communities, rather than capitulating to the Tory cuts driven majority.
The FBU urges residents to consider prior to the elections in May, if they want councillors who will stand up for their communities rather than ones that lack the strength of character to stand their ground in council chambers.
The campaign continues. Our petition is still live and can be found in the article below.
around 30 activists from Labour, Greens and the Socialist Party joined SOSIS campaigners in Staines High St on Saturday, 18th Feb, collecting over 500 signatures on the Fire Service petition and giving out 1,000+ flyers for the lobby on Thursday 23rd at 6.30pm outside the council offices in Knowle Green, Staines.
Tomorrow (18th Feb) is our day of action in Staines from 11am outside the Elmsleigh Centre. Collecting signatures on our petition to keep two whole-time crewed fire appliances in Spelthorne. I have attached a copy of the petition if you want to print it and collect signatures yourself. The link to the online petition is here: http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/SaveFireService/.
We will also be giving out flyers for the lobby of Spelthorne Council next Thursday 23rd at 6.30pm at Knowle Green. Councillor Susan Doran has tabled a motion at the council meeting that night:
That Spelthorne Borough Council request that the new Fire Station proposed by Surrey County Council to be built at Fordbridge Roundabout, has two pumps/appliances/fire engines each fully manned whole time (full time at all times, 24hrs a day, 7 days a week). To do otherwise would seriously endanger and disadvantage the lives and property of the residents of Spelthorne, which is an area of high demand for both Fire and Rescue Services and one of elevated risks due to many factors.
We are also promoting the OurNHS national demonstration in London on 4th March. More details can be found here: http://www.healthcampaignstogether.com.
If you want to meet up with other Surrey NHS campaigners you can join us at Waterloo station, under the big clock on the concourse at 10.30am. Jane Armitage from Surrey UNISON will be there to meet people.
After weeks of protesting, a massive demo outside the fire station and petitions, lobbying etc. the County Council were forced to organise a public meeting (due for 7th Feb) to explain why they needed to axe Staines Fire Station and to listen to people's concerns. When they realised that possibly a thousand people were going to turn up, angry and determined, and ready to come to the lobby organised for the 23rd Feb, they backed down.
The County Council have been forced to drop their plan to close Staines Fire Station this year (before the planned new station opens in late 2018). Campaigners, firefighters and local trade unionists should be very pleased with themselves. This shows that serious and determined campaigning by a united community can win results.
The County Council still intend to close both our local stations when they open the new one - and with half the number of appliances and firefighters - watch this space, the battle for Staines has been won but there is still the overall war to save our fire services to win.
Some local Tory councillors and our local MP are belatedly trying to claim credit for the u-turn by SCC but this is hard to stomach when they all belong to the same austerity-driven, neoliberal, anti-public sector Tory Party. the credit for this victory belongs entirely to the firefighters and their supporters within the community who were prepared to stand up and be counted. Save Our Services in Surrey are proud to have been a part of that.
Notes of meeting 25 January 2017
Present: Helen Couchman, Paul Couchman, Cheryl Wright, Dorothea Fox, Robert Evans, Steve Trafford, Tim Jones, Liz Mansfield and Matt Clarke.
Apologies received from Thelma Snelgrove, Ginny Eaton and Iain Raymond.
Treasurer's report: Thelma sent a message that we have around £650 in the bank. We have just spent some money on flyers for the fire station protest. Collection at meeting raised £55. £20 donated to the Hub for room use.
It was reported that hot meals at Staines Community Centre ended on Friday. A New SOSIS campaigner was speaking at Spelthorne Council that night on their petition against closure.
Staines Fire Station - the campaign is really gathering steam. The protest on Saturday 21st January was very well attended. Possibly 200 there - mainly local people. Good coverage in Surrey Advertiser/Get Surrey.
There was further discussion on the importance of retaining current fire and rescue cover and plans were agreed:
SOSIS will set up a stall outside the public meeting on 7th Feb to give out flyers and collect names. Volunteers needed. A number of questions have been submitted. Only questions submitted by 27 January will be accepted.
A day of action will be held in Staines on Saturday 18th February from 11am-2pm. All political parties are asked to support. We would like stalls set up all through the high street showing the unity and spread of support on this issue. We may also be able to get the Fire Brigades Union fire engine for the day. Local fire fighters will also be asked to join us. All welcome.
It was agreed to circulate Richard Walsh's address (available on public website) and encourage residents to write to him with their concerns. Walsh is a county councillor who sits on the Fire and Rescue group. His address is 23 Old Forge Crescent, Shepperton TW179BT.
UPDATE: Since the meeting, we have heard that Spelthorne Council and our MP have written an open letter condemning the proposed fire service cuts. The planned campaigning activities agreed at the SOSIS meeting must go ahead to keep up the pressure. It is having an effect. The lobby on 23 Feb should now be a major community protest against Surrey County Council's plans and Spelthorne's councillors and MP should be there protesting with us.
Council Tax increase and SOSIS position - Paul introduced the subject of the proposed 15% council tax hike and referendum. There was unanimous support for a clear position of opposing the increase and demanding that the government returns the billions it has stolen from local government since 2010. Whilst we understand that some may see no option but to vote yes to preserve public services, we cannot support this rise which will be unaffordable for many. At present it looks like all Surrey political parties except the Tories will be opposing the increase. A press release will be sent out to this effect.
SOSIS Elections Charter - the meeting unanimously agreed to re-endorse the election charter (which can be found on our website), with just a couple of factual amendments (such as changing 'ConDems' to Tories). Currently, point (3) of our charter is very relevant: 'To oppose any unaffordable increase in taxes...to offset austerity cuts'. We are also opposed to any cuts and call on councillors to refuse to make them.
All County Council candidates will be asked to endorse our charter and we will, as usual, advertise the list of supporters on our website.
Health Campaigns Together (HCT) - the meeting agreed to affiliate to HCT at a cost of £50 and to subscribe to their newsletter (100 copies per quarter at a cost of £30). We will also try to mobilise people for the #OurNHS demo in London on 4 March. Volunteers will be sought to meet people at the various main train stations in Surrey and to gather as a group at Waterloo.
Truth About Zane - Liz gave a brief update. Further evidence continues to surface and Kye and Nicole are not giving up. Fiona Dent and Andy Burnham have taken up their case.
Surrey Rangers - there is a threat to cut the number of wildlife rangers in Surrey but we do not yet know the details. We agreed to publicise these cuts and support any campaign against them.
Notes taken by Helen and typed up by Paul.
Staines Fire Station protest Sat 21st Jan
The mood of the protest was angry and determined. Firefighters, local residents, anti-cuts campaigners and their families all gathered outside Staines Fire Station to shout a loud NO! to the County Council. Over 200 people had come with just a couple of weeks notice to this demo. Councillor Robert Evans had called the protest. Robert, a Lib Dem councillor, Paul Couchman of Save Our Services in Surrey (SOSIS) and Jez, a local firefighter, spoke about the proposals to cut our fire safety cover even further than previously threatened.
According to the Surrey firefighters:
SCC have also recently announced plans to raise council tax by a whopping 15% - will they stop the cuts and closures if this goes through? Of course not. This will just be a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. They are determined to make cuts and will use the referendum as an excuse when it returns a no vote.
Save Our Services in Surrey does not accept the need for cuts in public services or massive rates increases.
Paul Couchman said:
"The wealth of the richest 1% of the population has grown whilst the rest of us suffer wage cuts, unstable employment conditions and austerity. This government, and their representatives on local councils, have made cut after cut in public services - in health, education and social care amongst others. People will not take it any more. The trade unions, alongside residents associations and community groups, need to draw a line in the sand and say: no more cuts.
"If the Tories in Spelthorne borough and in Surrey County Council get away with axing our fire service here in Spelthorne then they will come back for more, and more ... until there are no publicly owned and democratically run public services left. We have no choice but to fight."
The fact that Spelthorne has once again been targetted for deeper cuts than the rest of Surrey was not lost on the audience.
Again, local firefighters explained:
"Under the current proposals Spelthorne will only have one of the 35 Surrey appliances. The average for each of the eleven boroughs will be three. To put it another way, Spelthorne residents will be paying for fire cover across Surrey when they will only have a single engine. The generally less well-off borough subsidising the more wealthy areas yet again".
The protest pledged to build the opposition to the proposed immediate closure of Staines station and to campaign vigorously for Spelthorne to continue to have two full-time appliances.
It was agreed to vuild for the public meeting on 7th Feb and to make the lobby of Spelthorne council in Knowle Green on 23 February at 6.30pm the biggest protest ever seen in Staines. SOSIS and the FBU, along with local firefighters, other trade unions and local residents associations will be building for this over the next few weeks, as well as promoting the petition on the SCC website and encouraging people to individually lobby their local councillors.
Anyone who would like to help distribute flyers or get involved with SOSIS should visit www.sosis.org.uk or email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save Our Services in Surrey and Staines Socialist Party
First of all - there has been an important development in the campaign to save Staines Fire Station. The council were previously refusing to hold a public meeting but the strength of public feeling has led them to change there position and now they have called a public meeting:
This is from Spelthorne Council's Facebook Page:Staines Fire Station – public meeting
In response to comments received from residents about the planned closure of Staines Fire Station, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at Spelthorne Borough Council has arranged a meeting to discuss Surrey County Council’s proposals for the Fire Service in Spelthorne.
Residents and interested parties from the local area are invited to attend the public meeting being held at 7.30pm on Tuesday 7 February in the Council Chamber at the Council Offices, Knowle Green, Staines-upon-Thames.
The meeting will be chaired by Councillor Colin Davis from Spelthorne Borough Council. Representatives of Surrey County Council will be in attendance including Councillor Richard Walsh, Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing and Councillor Kay Hammond, Cabinet Associate responsible for Community Safety Services, and from the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, Russell Pearson and Clive Whitethread.
Residents who would like to ask a question at the meeting should email it in advance to the Committee Manager, Gillian Hobbs, at email@example.com by 27 January. Alternatively, post your question to Gillian Hobbs, Committee Manager, Spelthorne Borough Council, Knowle Green, Staines-upon-Thames TW18 1XB by the same date, 27 January. Due to the high number of questions expected there will only be time available to hear questions which have been submitted in advance.
Cllr Colin Davis, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “This is an important issue of natural concern to local residents. The meeting will provide an opportunity for residents to express their concerns and the County Council Cabinet Members to explain the logistical background to what is obviously a controversial proposal."
You can visit and register on their page here: https://www.facebook.com/spelthornebc/?fref=nf
PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO ATTEND THIS MEETING. IF YOU CAN, PLEASE SEND IN A QUESTION YOU WANT TO ASK ON THE NIGHT.
Further important dates and updates:
Spelthorne Local Committee (SCC and Borough Councillors together) meet on 23rd January. Details here: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/get-involved/your-local-area/spelthorne-local-area/news-from-spelthorne/news-from-spelthorne-2016/spelthorne-joint-committee-meeting-postponed
SOSiS will be holding a Steering Committee meeting on Weds 25 January at The Hub, Thames Street, Staines - to discuss plans for the campaign and the forthcoming lobby. These meetings are open to anyone who wants to help practically with our work.
A reminder of the lobby and protest on 23rd February outside the council meeting in Knowle Green, Staines. The FB event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/181406415659755/
Those of you who still haven't signed the petition can do so here: http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/FireSafety/
Lastly, there are still a couple of hundred flyers produced by the fire brigades union if anyone wants to deliver some in their street. Just let me know. Any other thoughts, ideas etc. welcome.
This is where we will try to publish anti-cuts news we receive