One of my fondest memories growing up was when my dad, a firefighter, would take my sister and I to visit the fire station. In those days you had to call into the fire station to pick up your payslips, so we would climb on the engines, try on the helmets, slide down the pole, and marvel at the array of hoses and tools on display. Obviously we now live in more health and safety conscious times so I imagine this would never be allowed today, but I loved it. I was excited by the shiny equipment and noise of the sirens, and I loved the comradery from my dad’s colleagues. Most of all, I was extremely proud of my dad for bravely helping people when they needed it the most. It got me a little bit of kudos in the playground, too. Supporting our uniformed services is in my blood.
So a special thank you to the firefighters who worked round the clock to put out a major factory fire between Ashton and Guide Bride in August, including evacuating a row of residents as smoke levels escalated. GMFRS are absolute pros and we are lucky to have them. Last year’s devastating moor fires are still fresh in our memories, and I’ll never forget how both our firefighters and our mountain rescue teams gave their all to protecting human life and saving our environment from further destruction. The evacuation of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire and the impressive work to secure the reservoir wall from bursting and causing disaster was yet another reminder of how critical the work of our emergency services is.
However, our blue light response crews are themselves under fire – from cuts which are leaving them close to tipping point. This month, together with all the Greater Manchester Labour MPs, I wrote to the Government calling for real investment in our fire and rescue services. We’ve lost a thousand firefighters in ten years of austerity, along with reduced hours and lost engines at several local stations. People may be aware that the strain placed on firefighters has had particularly tragic consequences in Stalybridge. Enough is enough – the Spending Review must prioritise a safe and effective fire service.
Over the summer break I also spent a Friday night on shift with our fantastic local police officers. When Parliament is in recess I love to take opportunities to see first-hand how life is on the frontline. Thanks to Inspector Lee Broadstock for arranging this and showing me the ropes. Every weekend shift with the police is a busy shift- from escalating knife crime to enduring antisocial behaviour to cracking down on child sexual exploitation, the local police are also feeling a decade of cuts fiercely. Our local police officers and support staff do an incredible job, even with stretched resources, but again, we need to see some serious and lasting investment to help our bobbies do their jobs.
Under the Conservative government, 21,000 officers have been axed- including 1 in 4 policewomen and men in Greater Manchester. At the same time, recorded crime is rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We cannot go on taking public safety for granted like this.
Tragically, two horrific murders in a single week this summer brought home how dangerous the labours of our key workers can be. PC Andrew Harper was killed in the line of duty as first on scene attending a burglary, just 28 days after marrying his bereft wife Lissie, robbing them of their future together. 63 year old social worker Belinda Rose was also fatally stabbed during a house visit, robbing her of time with her terminally ill husband, and her of her retirement after many years of service. Lone working is especially dangerous, and we must do more to ensure it is safe where it is essential. Our area knows only too well how murder in the line of duty can rock a whole community. September marks 7 years since the horrific loss of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes in Mottram. I will never forget them or the events of that day.
To all of you who work on the frontline keeping us safe – thank you. We know that times are tough. We know your work is often gruelling. We know you need more resource. I for one will keep campaigning until we see it.