"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik


Old Norwich fire station to shut its doors for the final time…

With paintings, trophies and photos boxed up, and a final day’s clothing among bare coat hangers it looked like any other moving day.

But this was not the usual moving house or business premises, as the final items of clothing were helmets, boots, jackets and tunics, and the other articles represented years of fire service history.

Tomorrow marks the end of an era for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service as the doors are closed on their Bethel Street station for the final time as the move to a new £4.5m station takes place.

At 9am tomorrow Green Watch will report to Bethel Street for the last time, with Blue Watch reporting to their new home at 6pm.

The central Bethel Street station has served the city since 1934, but as the nature of the service has changed the need for a new station was realised and the decision was taken to move to the new Carrow Fire Station, near Martineau Lane, in Trowse.

District manager Greg Preston said: “It was built when fire stations served the whole of the city, which is why there are so many bays and doors – all the fire engines for the city were here.”

He said that today the service has a much greater focus on the rescue side with cutting edge engines that carried a wide variety of equipment.

However he added that there were mixed emotions for everyone involved.

“I think it is coming to the end of a lot of eras and people are feeling sad it is actually closing, but as professional firefighters they understand we are leaving for a fire station far more relevant and practical.”

One of those giving the station an emotional send off yesterday was its longest serving member Sonny Garrett, 64.

Mr Garrett, a fire safety officer, first started at the station in November 1971, when it also housed the ambulance service.

He said: “I think the station itself has a unique character, it has always had that feeling.

“When you look back it was perfect at the time for running a fire station. It has served us well.

“I have worked with some excellent people over the years, who have been both friends and colleagues. It is this comradeship and friendship that you just can’t measure how important it is. In an emergency service you really rely on each other.”

Mr Garrett paid tribute to those who had been injured and killed while serving the city from the station and said that he had been documenting the station’s history in memory of all those who have worked there.

He said: “When I heard about the new site it seemed a shame so much history was going to be lost so I started collecting information and photos and hopefully in a few weeks time it will be on the Norfolk Fire Service website.”

The process of leaving Bethel Street has not just been a case of moving two fire engines from the four-storey building, which houses four crews of eight, as well as a range of support and management teams.

Phil Berry, fire station manager, said: “It has been a hectic couple of months preparing not only the operational but also the fire safety side.

“It has served us very well over the years, but there is awful lot of material that has been left behind that had to be prepared.”

He added: “We can’t forget a lot of people here and they served the community of Norwich very well. We have to have to remember some of colleagues who have lost their lives while doing that.”

Mr Berry added that any historical items they could not take with them would go to the historical society so they can be preserved.

However the famous firefighters’ poles have to stay as the station is a listed building.

The next stage will be the decommissioning the station before it is sold off by Norfolk County Council. However, it is unlikely that Mr Garrett’s dream of a museum on the site will be realised as it will be sold with planning permission for 14 residential flats and offices on the ground floor.

Mr Garrett said: “I would like to keep it as a fire station. It would be nice if they turned it into a museum with old fire appliances and could raise some money for charities and other organisations. It seems an ideal place for it.”



Norfolk fire service cuts get green light (EDP article)

Major Norwich Fire at Zizzi Restaurant in October...

Controversial plans to cut fire cover in Norfolk were given the green light yesterday amid fresh fears that lives and historic buildings in the centre of Norwich could be put at risk.

Norfolk County Council approved the £1.5m cuts as part of a new safety plan aimed at boosting cover in rural areas and King’s Lynn.

As part of the changes the number of fire engines in Norwich would be cut from five to four after the opening of the new Carrow Station in Trowse, near Norwich, following the closure of Bethel Street, with 24 jobs lost.

Across the county a further 12 jobs will be lost at six retained fire stations, Cromer, Dereham, Diss, Fakenham, Sandringham, and Wymondham. But moves to scrap the retained crew at Gorleston have been put on hold for 12 months, though councillors were unable to give assurances that the proposals will not be revisited in the future.

The monitoring of rules governing a maximum 15 minute response time for second crews at some incidents was also scrapped.

Labour councillor Bert Bremner told county councillors that the plans were a “Tory gamble”, which would affect the safety of firefighters and the public, particularly in the Norwich area.

“At the big Zizzi’s fire last month in the centre of Norwich there were at least six fire fighting appliances and 40 fire-fighters,” Mr Bremner said. “Zizzi’s was right next to the beautiful Ethelbert Gate, one of Norwich’s treasured medieval buildings.

“The first crew to get to the fire was the second Norwich pump, the one Tory Norfolk will cut. What is to replace this second fire engine?

“The Tory cuts will mean only five fire-fighters are on duty at North Earlham so no speedy arrival of the ‘Aerial Ladder Platform’ and far greater damage and far greater risk of fire spreading. The Ethelbert Gate would have been at risk.”

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for fire and rescue, said: “We have got reduced risk, and we have got action being taken with a new fire station at Carrow, which will result in Norwich being ringed by fire stations at Sprowston, Earlham and at Carrow.”


We watch with interest the FBU’s response to this major threat to the people of Norfolk…

Norfolk FBU Members Hit London

More than 100 members of Norfolk branches of the FBU joined other regional branches and marched on Parliament today.

Over 2,000 firefighters rallied in Westminster Central Hall, London. Hundreds then protested outside Downing Street while others went into pParliament to lobby MPs.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the rally, “We face a pay freeze and huge attacks on jobs and conditions as part of an ideological, political assault against public services.”

And addressing other trade unions he said, ” If it means striking together, then so be it, we are entering the fight of our lives. ”

Tax The Rich!

Protest Statement From A Norwich City Action At Vodafone Today.

Corporate tax evasion/avoidance, I don’t pretend to remember which is legal and what loopholes make it so, is costing us our services. Last week ‘The Browne Report’ detailed billions of pounds worth of suggested cuts to the front line of public services affecting, for example; doctors, nurses, cleaning staff and specialists, special educational needs departments and classroom assistants. Right here in Norfolk ‘meals on wheels’ schemes were scrapped today plus there are the ongoing battles to save the day-care centres for the elderly, and now the centres for the deaf, blind, deaf-blind and disabled are all in the firing line. Also facing cuts are rural bus and train services, many people’s only transport link to the wider world. Not to mention the cuts to the Fire Service, youth working groups such as Connexions, and three thousand local jobs, all being the tip of the ice-berg. We are angry.

Vodafone have managed to swindle £6bn in unpaid taxes this year, which George Osbourne has happily written off.

So today a bizarre assortment of students, subcultural-stereotypes, community activists and revolutionaries stood outside Vodafone on St. Stephens St. and let the public know exactly what was causing them their considerable grievances. They were met with a healthy mix of sarcasm, anger, apathy, confusion, virulent support, back-slapping, knowing nods as well a series of follow up questions and a few pledges of solidarity. Within half an hour over 500 leaflets had been distributed and the shop effectively closed as staff locked the doors and released their small amount of customers back onto the high street. We stayed and continued to spread the word asking shoppers “Why should we be expected to pay our taxes when they won’t pay theirs?”

After another short while the police inevitably turned up and claimed they had reports of harassment from the public only seconds after having told us it was driving past us that had alerted them to our presence. When asked if they knew what cuts the Norfolk Constabulary were facing they said they would not be drawn into political arguments then proceeded to debate the finer points of free speech with us. The cops assured us that free speech only applied if in-audible to anyone over around four feet away from the speaker, ignoring the rights of street preachers and buskers to pollute our ears with whatever drivel they like at nearly any volume.

We assured them we’d be back tomorrow with more leaflets so we wouldn’t need to shout anymore. See you on St. Stephens.

Why They’re Smearing The Fire-fighters

Here’s an interesting article about what’s been going on in London. While the situation is somewhat different in Norfolk, there’s every chance of industrial action being taken here and across the country due to the dangerously complacent level of cuts and changing work practices.

Norfolk fire-fighters no doubt will face the same smear tactics adopted by not only the Fire Service but quite likely also a very reactionary press.

We back the fightback against the cuts and we fully support our fire-fighters both nationally and regionally. We also know the general public do too.

Want to play pretend fire-fighters? AssetCo want to hear from you. You get to watch houses burn down and crash fire engines...nice!

First of all, it is not true that this dispute between firefighters and London Fire Brigade management has anything to do with a claim for a £10,000 increase in pay. From listening to some online chatter, it would seem that at one stage, very early on in the negotiations, the union reps mentioned this claim in a negotiating meeting as a joke, in response to some of management’s more absurd demands. When the LFB responded “now you’re being ridiculous”, FBU reps responded “well, you fucking started it”. Whether that is true or apocryphal, what is for certain is that there is no claim for a £10,000 pay increase at the centre of this dispute. So when the LFB management publicise such allegations to newspapers and encourage them to claim that firefighters are making an unreasonable pay claim (by some standards – in my opinion, they would be worth every penny), that is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. And it is certainly LFB management and their Westminster overseers who are behind these claims. The editor of Financial Markets confirmed as much in this editorial intervention, where he reveals that a story written up for the online magazine repeating those claims was taken from a “propaganda release” from the Fire Minister Bob Neil.

Secondly, it is not true that there is anything scandalous or ‘greedy’ about firefighters claiming London weighting while living outside of London. Such ‘weighting’ applies to where you work, not where you live, and the rules are the same for everyone. So, when the LFB management leaks the full home address of every firefighter to the tabloids in order to hound firefighters this is a sleazy, dishonest tactic of class war. Thirdly, it’s not acceptable for LFB management to use comments made by firefighters on Facebook groups as grounds for suspension. But that is what has been happening, and it is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. Parenthetically, one firefighters’ support group with over 20,000 members disappeared from the social media site after comments made on the page were used by management against members. In addition, a number of individuals who were active on the group had their accounts deleted.

The use of smears, bullying and dirty tricks by LFB management should not surprise anyone that has followed the negotiations. Let’s recall how we got here. First of all, there is an important distinction that is apt to be lost in this discussion. The dispute is about shift patterns and the threat of cuts to night-time cover, but the strike was prompted by management’s bullying tactics, wherein they used a section 188 notice to threaten all workers with redundancy unless they accepted the new terms. Were it not for this threat, the strike would very probably not have been called, and the outcome would be determined solely by talks. But management pulled out their ace with the section 188, their last resort of coercion, and left the union with no choice but to strike. Such moves are taking place all over the country as part of the government’s cuts agenda, as tens of thousands of council workers have been threatened with the same threat of redundancy unless they accept lower pay. This is a tactic of class war. It is designed to undermine the position of organised labour, and bully workers. It is designed, in short, to weaken the bargaining power of labour and restrict the consumption of the working class. In context, it is part of a package of political measures designed to transfer wealth from the working class to the ruling class, the financialised fraction of which stands to gain most in the immediate term. It is also part of a project aimed at fundamentally restructuring the political economy of British capitalism, such that the welfare state, trade unions, and other features of society that buttress labour’s position are fundamentally weakened, and the power of the City, of the CBI and of entrenched business interests is fundamentally strengthened.

So, in the last analysis, they’re smearing the firefighters as part of a wider project of redistributing class power. However, there is a more immediate reason for the smears. LFB are losing. They are losing big time, so comprehensively that it’s almost laughable. The incompetence of the scab replacement firm, Assetco, has become nearly legendary. Destroying vehicles, letting houses burn to the ground, calling out striking firefighters to handle situations which they are just not trained or equipped to handle, are just a few examples of their last display. Assetco workers don’t want to cross the picket lines, and Police Silver command are refusing to provide escorts for them. In fact, my understanding is that Assetco have made it plain that they are not in a position to cover the city during the upcoming 47 hour strike, they simply don’t have the means or adequately trained staff. LFB management are panicking and, as a result, lashing out by all available means. They are desperate, on the backfoot, and – if the FBU stick to their guns – will have to back down and reach a serious, negotiated settlement with the union. I note that the NUJ are also out on strike on 5th November. Many RMT workers refused to work in unsafe conditions during the last strike, causing a complete shut-down on the Jubilee Line. It is fairly certain that the same will happen next week. Trade unionists from across London are rallying to the fire fighters, and undoubtedly watching the outcome. Whether the Tories hold the line with the FBU and the RMT will communicate something important to other trade unionists about the state of play. This is why it is vital that firefighters are not demoralised by the constant attacks of management and tabloids, nor swayed by the appeals for timidity from the liberal media. They can win, they have every right to win, and those supporting them need them to win.


NCAG Joins FBU At County Hall Lobby

Members of Norfolk Community Action Group and others joined the FBU and general secretary Matt Wrack outside County Hall yesterday to try and persuade the Council and Fire Service to refrain from imposing cuts which will leave the people of Norfolk more vulnerable than they’ve been in years.

Rather than listen to the professionals i.e. the fire fighters themselves, it is once again bureaucrats and managers calling the shots and who are now rubber stamping a course of action that everybody in Norfolk should be extremely concerned about.

Having spoken to FBU members who went into the county hall meeting, it seems there is now little hope of saving appliances and at least 36 jobs in Norwich alone.

There is little point in the Norfolk public involving themselves in Norfolk County Council ‘public consultations’ as they are nothing but lip service with decisions already made behind closed doors by pen-pushers.

We are a week away from finding out precisely what else we are going to suffer in Norfolk, but rest assured your safety, your jobs, your homes and your welfare state is going to be torn apart.

Wake up Norfolk! These cuts are not necessary. Let those who caused the financial crisis in Britain pay back the money. It’s not as if they can’t afford it!

100 FBU Members And Their Supporters Out On The Streets Of Norwich…

Saturday saw around 100 FBU members and their supporters on the Haymarket in Norwich lobbying the public on the issue of the upcoming fire cuts.

Well done to all Norfolk Community Action Group members for turning out and supporting the FBU.

Here’s a short reminder of just how not to run a fire service and just how lucky we are to have the calibre of firefighters we have. It’s also a reminder that the biggest threat to the safety of the public comes from the bosses themselves.