Fewer firefighters keeping Bedford safe than there were 10 years ago

Union warns it means a longer response times to incidents - and a greater risk to lives
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Fewer firefighters are keeping the people of Bedford safe than a decade ago, figures suggest.

With police, fire and ambulance services nationally experiencing cuts over the last 10 years, unions are calling for more funding to protect frontline services.

Home Office and NHS Digital figures show the equivalent of 3,368 full-time emergency workers were employed by organisations covering Bedford this year – 9 per cent more than in 2011.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service lost 41 FTE firefighters this year, with 409 in post as of the end of MarchBedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service lost 41 FTE firefighters this year, with 409 in post as of the end of March
Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service lost 41 FTE firefighters this year, with 409 in post as of the end of March

But the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service lost 41 FTE firefighters in that time, with 409 in post as of the end of March.

Around 9,500 firefighters were lost across England over the same period – a 23 per cent drop – with every fire and rescue service experiencing reductions.

While the number of incidents attended overall has steadily been declining nationally, the response time to fires has increased.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which represents firefighters, said anyone working in the public sector frontline would agree that "austerity is not over".

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said the sector had been calling for new funding for years.

He added: “For fire and rescue, every pound cut from our budget means a greater likelihood of smaller crew numbers, fire stations shutting, and the loss of resources such as fire engines.

“In turn this all means longer response times to incidents, and a greater risk to lives, property, heritage and the environment.”

Meanwhile, there were the equivalent of 1,128 full-time frontline police officers in Bedfordshire Police's ranks as of the end of March, according to the Home Office data.

That was 13 per cent more than at the same point in 2011, when there were 998 FTE officers, though figures prior to 2015 are estimates.

Across England, the number of officers has dropped by 5 per cent in the last decade – while recorded crime was rising year-on-year in the years before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Different Home Office figures show that across Bedfordshire, the number of crimes recorded by police increased by 29 per cent, from 43,617 in 2010-11, to 56,058 in 2019-20.

The figure fell to 47,982 in 2020-21, when crime levels nationally were significantly impacted by coronavirus lockdowns.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents officers, said the Government's promise of 20,000 new police officers by the end of 2023 does not go far enough.

A spokesman said: “An increase in the number of police officers is desperately needed, particularly given that the population in England and Wales has grown by 4 million in the last decade.

“In addition, the time officers spend dealing with non-crime issues, helping vulnerable people and those in mental health crises, has also increased.”

However, decreases were seen for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, which saw its ambulance staff numbers increase 11% from 1,645 in September 2011, to 1,831 as of July this year.

But the NHS Digital figures show the number of ambulance staff operating in trusts across England dropped by 3 per cent in 10 years.

Unison, which represents ambulance workers, said fewer staff means lengthy waits for ambulances.

Colm Porter, the union's national ambulance officer, said: "Staff end up working across wider areas, their shifts persistently overrun, stress increases and burnout is common.

"Queuing ambulances outside hospitals and long patient delays have become the norm."

The Government said it had "consistently" given emergency services the resources they need to keep people safe.

A spokesman added: “We have recruited more than half of the promised 20,000 additional police officers, invested £2.3 billion this year to support the work of firefighters and NHS England have given ambulance trusts an extra £55 million to boost staff numbers ahead of winter.”