Cox slams 'EU threat' to rural fire services
GEOFFREY Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, has described new European Union regulations that are likely to lead to cuts in local fire services and force up council tax bills, as crass" and deeply damaging" to rural communities. The European Parlia
GEOFFREY Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, has described new European Union regulations that are likely to lead to cuts in local fire services and force up council tax bills, as "crass" and "deeply damaging" to rural communities. The European Parliament has voted to scrap the opt-out to the EU Working Time Directive. Government ministers last week dismissed concerns raised in the House of Commons about the effect on rural areas. The MP has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell, calling on him to stand firm in declining to agree to scrap the opt out. If the new EU rules go ahead, workers' rights to opt out from the working time rules would be abolished. Employers would have to ensure workers work no more than 48 hours a week. On-call time in the workplace, even when inactive, would be counted as working time. This will have a severe impact on retained fire fighters, who double up their fire service work with other jobs. Many have pagers - on call in the event of emergencies. Mr Cox says that, as a result, the number of retained fire-fighters on active duty especially in rural communities is likely to decline sharply. There will be reduced local fire cover, response times will increase as fire-fighters have to come from further away, and more full-time fire-fighters will be needed - pushing up the fire levy on council tax bills. The Local Government Association and Chief Fire Officers' Association have attacked the plans. Currently, in Devon and Somerset 31 retained fire-fighter posts are not filled. But such shortfalls would worsen if the regulations are implemented. Geoffrey Cox said: "Retained fire-fighters perform a superb and vital service for our rural community, helping tackle fires, floods and road accidents. I am very concerned at the effect of these crass and deeply damaging new rules which would cut back workers' rights to work when they choose. "This red tape would cut local fire services, put lives at risk and force up council tax across Devon. It is vital that the Government stands firm on this issue of such importance to rural communities. The MEPs who voted for this measure should be sent a message in the European elections that their failure to protect local fire services is not acceptable.