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Manchester firefighters pushed to agree to 12-hour shifts in cash-saving bid

All fire fighters in Greater Manchester risk losing their jobs unless they accept newly-revised 12-hour shift patterns as the service struggles to balance its dwindling budget.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority (GMFRA) has already cut 400 firefighters from the frontline in the past six years as a result of £28m spending cuts, and is facing further cuts of £14.4m over the next four years.

In order to balance its books, it is introducing a new pattern for all 1,250 firefighters where both day and night shifts last for 12 hours, instead of the current pattern of 10.5-hour day shifts and 13.5-hour night shifts.

Cllr David Acton, chair of the GMFRA, said: “Our ultimate aim is simple - to ensure as many fire engines as possible are available when we have the most incidents and are able to get to people as quickly as we can. That is our bottom line and will remain our top priority.”

He said the new shift pattern will allow GMFRA to save £10m and retain 32 more frontline firefighter jobs “than would be possible by trying to maintain our current system”.

However, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned that 250 firefighter jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts.

Gary Keary, Greater Manchester brigade secretary for the FBU, said: “We are staggered that GMFRS would jeopardise relations with its workforce in this aggressive way.

“To start the process for dismissing firefighters to then simply re-engage them on an un-negotiated contract is really appalling, and a serious breach of the agreed mechanisms for industrial relations in the UK fire and rescue service.”

But Cllr Acton insisted GMFRA had been negotiating with the FBU since January on the issue alone, adding: “For this reason, the Fire Authority agreed implementation. We are now trying to work with our firefighters and the FBU to agree how we move to the new system.

“We have not issued notices to anyone at this stage. We have no intention to make anyone redundant.”

However, he said that the new shift patterns will be imposed from 1 April 2017 whether an agreement is reached or not.

Earlier this year, the Public Accounts Committee warned that although fire services have successfully absorbed spending cuts so far, the further spending cuts could pose a risk to the public.

In Greater Manchester specifically, there has been a threefold increase in fire deaths in the past year.

Cllr Acton admitted that fire deaths have been going up, but said the new system would allow GMFRA to focus on engaging with communities to promote fire safety.

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