We must learn lessons from Grenfell and end cuts to fire safety

Maggie Cook
Maggie Cook

The STUC has backed a call for the Scottish Government to listen to firefighters’ concerns about the effects of cuts on fire safety by committing to long term investment that addresses shortages in firefighter and fire safety posts.

The motion from the Fire Brigades Union, and Edinburgh and Inverness TUCs, called for lessons to be learned from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It said: “we owe it to the victims, victims’ families and residents of Grenfell to do everything we can to avoid any future tragedies of this nature ever happening again”.

It also pledged backing to a Bill by David Stewart MSP which would require Scottish social housing to be fitted with fire suppression systems. It will also encourage unions and trades union councils to invite Grenfell campaigners to publicise their campaign.

Maggie Cook, UNISON, supporting the composite said: “The appalling loss of life in Grenfell is one of the worst examples of the failings of various systems that are meant to protect people and save lives. Whether or not corporate manslaughter charges are brought, it is clear that deregulation and cost-cutting played their part, and residents’ long-standing concerns about fire safety were disgracefully ignored.”

Backing the integrated approach to a fire safety strategy, Maggie made it clear that this should apply not only within the fire service, where UNISON represents support staff, but also across the various services that deal with fire safety issues, including local authority building control services where UNISON also represents staff.

On the effects of cuts in local government, Maggie, warned: “Worryingly, cuts to councils have included cuts to building control staff despite the vital role they have to play, along with others, in ensuring buildings are safe and fire safe.

“UNISON’s 2017 survey of building control staff found they were overworked, stressed and stuck in the office, not circumstances conducive to ensuring public safety.

Maggie explained that UNISON was proud to stand with the FBU at the November lobby of the Scottish Parliament, protesting about cuts to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

She also noted that the FBU had given evidence to the Scottish Parliament Local Government and Communities Committee about building regulations and fire safety and the recommendations have been made but are still under scrutiny. Three review groups have been set up by the Ministerial Working Group as a result, looking at building standards compliance and enforcement, fire safety in building standards, and fire regime and regulatory framework for high rise domestic buildings.

Maggie emphasised the need for these reviews to assess the impact of cuts on overworked teams, whether building control staff or the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. “Reduced staff numbers can cost lives, quite literally. We agree with the major concerns raised by the FBU about the impact of cuts and job losses among their members and note that there have also been considerable cuts to support staff.

“The vital work support staff carry out can end up being done by the firefighters themselves, because it is work that is necessary. Cuts are therefore a false economy, which we all know.”

Maggie concluded: “So after Grenfell, we hope for once the politicians will listen, at least about these dangerous cuts.”

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