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.