4 reasons why the MoD’s fire service needs to stay public

Firefighting training at an MoD site

6 June 2018

The Ministry of Defence has its own fire service. The Defence Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) protects our military estates and property from fire risk. Together with the RAF fire service, they respond to emergencies, and carry out rescue operations at plane crashes.
 
But the MoD is in the process of outsourcing this vital service in an attempt to save money. The only bidders left in the running are Capita and Serco. 

Why should we care? 

1) National strategic assets should be kept in public hands

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is one of the largest landowners in the country - with nearly 2% of the UK land mass. MOD land is used for national defence and security, training and operations. It includes 4,600 sites and buildings worth more than £100 billion. The Defence Fire Risk Management Organisation, which sits within the MOD, employs 2,200 staff at 78 defence fire stations worldwide. This includes 65 defence fire stations in the UK and 13 overseas including Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. Outsourcing would mean bringing private companies into British forces operations overseas.
 
Unions Unite and Prospect have both sounded the alarm about the risk of this outsourcing. Jim Kennedy of Unite said it ‘raised serious concerns about national security’ and Garry Graham of Prospect said that the MoD would be ‘paying over the odds for a much worse service’ if they go ahead with the contract.
 
Whatever you think about the role of the military, it doesn’t make sense to hand over control of this vital service protecting our land to private companies.

2) Outsourcing puts people’s safety at risk

We know that private companies put profits before people again and again. The new contract will involve providing training for military fire fighters. The bidders have been asked to ‘proactively seek and implement efficiencies across the service’. This suggests that corners could be cut to save money - and lives could be in danger as a result. Some sites would have a much worse fire service response, and would rely on the local fire service who are already stretched in rural areas. Night time and weekend fire cover could be removed - anyone working or living (in barracks or ‘Married Quarters’) on the site would be at risk.
 
Is there MOD land near you? If so, your community could be affected by an overstretched local fire service, forced to step in when the new private service is cut.

3) Capita/Serco have failed us repeatedly

The bidders are unreliable, failing outsourcing companies - Capita and Serco. Capita is in financial trouble, having to raise millions to pay off its debt after the collapse of Carillion. Serco has a terrible reputation for messing up government contracts. Remember when they defrauded the public by bidding for government contracts after spending public money on tagging prisoners - who had already died or been released from prison?
Why would we hand over vital services to these dodgy, profit-hungry companies?

4) MoD have a history of failed privatisations - we don’t want more

This sale is the latest in a long line of privatisations in our defence service. We know that this government is committed to forcing through outsourcing and privatisation as a way to cut budgets. We’ve heard from our friends who work for the DFRS that this sell off could be the first step towards privatising the civilian fire and rescue service as well. Some regional fire and rescue services already have a commercial arm, and the Marine Rescue Service is already run by a private company. 
 
The Ministry of Defence has made bad decisions previously to privatise, including its decision to sell off more than 55,000 service family homes to Annington Property Limited in 1996. The National Audit Office found that this decision means the MOD has lost up to £4.2 billion. Property companies have made millions of pounds by buying land from the MOD and then selling on the sites.
 
 It’s time we stand up and put a stop to this relentless outsourcing. 
 
The Defence Select Committee have written to Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, urging him to rethink. Please join them by doing the same.
 
Take action now
 
Firefighting training at an MoD site

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