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Crisis for emergency services

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

Erik Cramb expresses his fears for the public services that we all depend upon – and highlights the importance of alliances between those working to deliver the services and all of us who need them

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is looking at how to make £36 million cuts over the next four years to work within the limits of their budget settlement from the Scottish Government. The plans include job losses and the removal of fire appliances from ten stations across the country. I write this while in an unseasonable heatwave, drought is threatening, and the Scottish public are being asked to be cautious in their use of water. The sort of advice we are getting amongst other things is don’t be washing your car, or use a sprinkler to water your lawn, spend less time in the shower. Understandable advice while wildfires have been blazing already for a week or more in different parts of the country.


Just think if, heaven forbid, you have to ring 999. All three of our emergency services – Police, Fire, and Ambulance – are wrestling with serious budget cuts. The service chiefs talk of staff and resources already down to the bare bones due to previous budget cuts. They are in crisis mode. If these latest Fire Services cuts are not a wake up call to the dangerous erosion of public services that is well underway, what will it take for us to re-evaluate the necessity of our public services?


As Gus Sproul, the Fire Brigades Union Scotland’s regional chair has said, ‘fewer fire appliances and fewer firefighters mean that our communities are at greater risk. Our members who have recently attended major incidents in Fife and Tayside tell us that if they have to attend similar incidents in the future with one less appliance then lives and property will be put at significantly increased danger’. The union’s position is clear: ‘The FBU is absolutely opposed to the cuts and will fight to maintain the level of safety and security that the local communities of Scotland deserve’.


Shared frustrations


Local councils are responsible for a whole spectrum of services and employ staff ranging from teachers, architects, lawyers, engineers, cooks, cleaners, social workers, trading standards officers and umpteen others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. They are the people who provide the day to day needs of vital services such as education of our children, the social care of our elderly and disabled, the health of our sick as well as the longer-term strategic planning and economic development necessary to sustain public services.


For the most part these services are delivered with dedication and a sense of serving the public good. All too often though, elected members, officials and workers are doing so with a sense of frustration that the constant round of budget cuts mean these services fall increasingly short of the concept of public service being a contract between the local authority and community members to enhance the quality of all our lives. No wonder low morale is so widespread among public sector workers and there’s a sense of dissatisfaction among the public. We contribute through taxes and charges and we don’t seem to benefit.


Since I retired, I have been a member of the highly respected Dundee Pensioners’ Forum which comprises many members who in their working lives worked for the council. We are readily sympathetic towards council staff with whom we have regular exchanges, but we also have a deep sense of frustration because we seem to be battling all the time with the officers about the limitations on the services that pensioners are receiving. We well understand the demand to build bricks without straw. Although we might, and do, disagree with many of their decisions, we understand they are trying to make the best of a bad situation.


These constant cuts are all the more galling because while to make savings critical services are being cut or curtailed, there are repeated reports of outrageous rewards being made to private sector bosses already having huge annual incomes being granted seemingly gratuitous bonuses of upwards of millions of pounds.


While companies like BP and Shell suddenly made even more than their normally obscene profits, despite the modest windfall taxes imposed by Government, every other sector of our economy was put in deep trouble and, worst of all, people on low incomes or benefits, among them many pensioners and people with disabilities, were unable to heat their homes. The dilemma to ‘Eat or Heat’ became a real and immediate concern. Businesses are closing at an unprecedented rate, charities have been getting their funding cut and foodbanks are in danger of being overwhelmed. Inflation in Britain rose above 10% as autumn gave way to winter. Strikes abounded even among the likes of nurses and teachers, normally the least militant of workers in the public sector. The governments at both Westminster and Holyrood, in the face of the demand for cost-of-living matching pay rises of 10% were offering around 5% or less saying there was no money to offer more. Meanwhile on 31st December 2022, as the ‘transfer window’ closed, Chelsea football club paid out a fee of over £100 million for a new striker!! Shell’s profits were £32 billion. How can a wage increase to match the rise in the cost-of-living for public sector workers be unaffordable when private companies have hundreds of millions of pounds sloshing about, and when billionaires have money to stash away in the Cayman Islands?


Our economy is totally skewed. There is no logic to rewards and taxation, except that of pure naked greed and that’s the way political leaders and ‘The Market’ want to keep it.


The role of local councils is to seek to enhance the quality of living of all citizens. But the consequences of the current cuts are taking us in the opposite direction. Less fire fighters and fire engines, less police on the streets, less ambulances can all have fatal consequences. Less scaffies mean dirtier streets, less road workers mean bigger potholes, the list could go on and on. We must stop pretending otherwise. It is becoming ever more urgent that we speak up for the shared interest we all have in properly funded public services!


The Reverend Erik Cramb is a Retired Industrial Chaplain and a member of the Dundee Pensioners Forum.

Published June 2023.

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