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Today the Fire brigades Union (FBU), National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers ( ATL ) have written to Justine Greening seeking urgent reassurances about fire safety in schools in light of the tragic and avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower last week.

The NUT and FBU have been pressing the Government since last year to reverse its proposed changes to fire safety requirements for school buildings which, in our view, show a total disregard for the health and safety of children and staff.

Last summer, the Government announced that the expectation that sprinklers should be fitted in new schools in England would be removed from its Building Bulletin guidance. Although it responded to NUT and FBU protests by claiming that it was still consulting, its proposed replacement Building Bulletin clearly set out the Government’s intention: ‘The Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety and therefore [guidelines] no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them.’

Of equal concern is the fact that, unbelievably, the proposed replacement Building Bulletin also made changes to fire compartmentalisation requirements, increasing the permitted size of compartmented areas in all schools and removing the requirement for each floor to be compartmented in unsprinklered schools, and removed sections from the original 2007 Bulletin discouraging the use of combustible materials for building cladding. The NUT, FBU and ATL believe that, in combination, these three changes significantly increase the fire risk in schools.

The NUT and FBU have been repeatedly refused access to information about responses to the consultation, including which respondents, if any, were in favour of the removal of the sprinkler expectation. Refusing to provide this information suggests that there was little, if any, support for the proposed move and leads us to conclude that the driving force is the desire to build new schools as cheaply as possible, even if this means playing fast and loose with the health and safety of children and school staff.

It is important to view these moves in the context of the repeated undermining and belittling of health and safety by Government since 2010, and the savage cuts affecting schools. In 2012 David Cameron’s proud boast was that his New Year’s resolution was to ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’. He also said that his Government was ‘waging war against the excessive culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.’ These remarks seemed offensive at the time but now seem crass in the extreme.

This issue has been dragging on for nearly a year and clarity is now urgently needed about the Government’s definitive position on the fitting of sprinklers in new schools, the use of combustible materials for cladding school buildings and allowing larger unsprinklered compartments in schools.

Kevin Courtney, NUT General Secretary, said: ‘The Government has behaved shamefully over this issue. It is high time the health and safety of children and staff is prioritised. We call upon the Government to make an immediate announcement that it will no longer proceed with down-grading fire safety in schools.’

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary said: “It is staggering we still have to have this debate with the Government in the current circumstances. It highlights the endless problems we have faced when raising fire safety issues over several years.”

Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary, said: “Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “It is shocking that the Government continues to ignore the recommendations on fire safety in schools. The Government - now more than ever - needs to make assurances that they will prioritise the health and safety of pupils and staff in school buildings and implement the changes required to keep them safe.”

Cuts, failing equipment and low morale in fire control rooms are crippling the fire and rescue service, a bombshell report from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reveals. Fire control rooms are where emergency calls are received and fire crews mobilised.

Losing Control? Cuts, Closures and Challenges in UK Fire Controls paints a bleak picture of life in a vital area of firefighting that often gets forgotten. The report reveals that more than 500 emergency control posts - a quarter of all UK posts - have been axed since 2010. The result is now chronic control room staff shortages. In 2015, 21% of shifts in Merseyside fire control did not meet their minimum staffing level of six operators. On some occasions, just four operators were on duty. Staff are having to put in a lot of overtime to keep the service running.

Some fire chiefs argue that cutting control jobs is sensible because new mobilising systems offer increased efficiencies, but these benefits have failed to materialize. One operator, who wishes to remain anonymous, recalls how management had promised a new mobilising system would cut down on work by 20 per cent. “All I’ve seen so far is the amount of work and stress on staff increase ten-fold”, she says. Other operators report of system failures so catastrophic that they were reduced to using a pen and paper and road maps to take down details of emergencies and locate them.

Many of the new mobilising systems have encountered significant faults after going live. Capita’s Vision DS mobilising system came in for some of the harshest criticism. At one point operators in the Dorset and Wiltshire control room, who use Vision DS, had to evacuate their workplace after the system was rendered useless having suffering ‘total failure’. Staff were transferred to a control room in Exeter over 90 miles away to take emergency calls. The FBU took the extraordinary step of issuing a written warning to every member of the fire authority warning them the system was not fit for purpose.

Unprecedented budget cuts coupled with persistent understaffing mean more fire services are adopting day and night shifts of 12 hours. Many members have found these shifts, which can start at 7am, to be disruptive to family life, unnecessarily inflexible and discouraging of diversity. Over 75% of control operators are women, many of whom have childcare or caring commitments. In some cases, it has forced mothers out of work.

Lynda Rowan O’Neill, secretary of the FBU’s Control Staff National Committee, said: “Control staff have been subjected to more than a decade of failed government policy, characterised by cuts, mergers and under-investment. We hope that this report will help fire and rescue stakeholders to better understand the scale of the issues and work with us to take action.”

- Read the full report at: www.fbu.org.uk/LosingControl

Following the suicide bombing in the Manchester Arena where at least 22 people, including children, have been killed and more than 50 injured, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack, who was born in Manchester, is today going to meet some of the firefighters who attended the scene.

Matt Wrack said:
“On behalf of firefighters across the UK we condemn this barbaric attack in Manchester, an assault on ordinary people going about their lives, which ruthlessly targeted children and young people. We send our thoughts and condolences to those who have lost family and friends and send our best wishes to those injured. The people of Manchester have demonstrated their humanity and solidarity by their immediate support of those affected by this terrible atrocity.

“Once again our emergency services have been on the front line of responding to a terror attack. We pay tribute to our own firefighters and our colleagues in all emergency services who did everything possible to save lives and keep the public safe.”



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