Journal column - 13/11/18

WHAT would you do if you were in a burning building? You'd rush out. I'd do the same. Any sane person would.


OK, we'd all hope we'd warn others and help them escape too, pets included. We might grab a few precious personal possessions on the way, say a family photograph album, whatever the official advice to leave everything and get out fast.


Peter Mandelson, when a County Durham Labour MP, replied his Hartlepool United scarf to a question about what one item would he take if his house was on fire.


I wondered if Peter needed to be shown on a map where he was supposed to live in the constituency but I thought pretending a length of fabric worn to keep the neck warm was pushing satire to its limits.


Today's Hartlepool MP Mike Hill is a top man, a great team player devoted to the town and its people but the reason I inquire what you'd do is we know firefighters head to the danger we run away from.


That's why the brave efforts of crews deserve our deepest respect and gratitude.


However, since 2010 the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority has had its budget slashed by over £11 million with 285 front-line firefighter jobs lost.  


Now the Tories are making £3.6 million further cuts to the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority which will damage a precious life-saving public service.


I understand the intense financial pressures put on those struggling to maintain frontline cover in the teeth of Tory austerity yet it would be irresponsible not to resist the downgrading of fire services at Hebburn, 

Wallsend, South Shields, North Moor, and Tynemouth or the removal of appliances from Gosforth and Washington to Newcastle and Sunderland Central.


Later this week I’m meeting Tyne & Wear Fire Service Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther to discuss these issues following my recent intervention in Parliament.   


Public safety is our priority and therefore any downgrading of local fire services is a massive concern, not to mention potential job losses.


If the cuts go ahead, communities in the North East won't be as safe.


Fire deaths in England increased sharply last year after 72 souls perished in the Grenfell Tower inferno, a block of flats in London turned into a tall crematorium.


The 334 people who lost their lives in fires across the country was the worst figure since 2010-11 and since that period one-in-five firefighter jobs were axed.


That's the equivalent of 10,000 full-timers and fewer firefighters equals great risk for you, me and the rest of the public.


Austerity is a Tory ideology and the Tories are the party of austerity so if we want to change one we must change the other.


Gambling with lives is irresponsible and safety on the cheap is no safety at all.


We're witnessing rising serious and violent crime since 21,000 police officers were discarded.


Theresa May, first as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister, is punching gaping holes in the thin blue line.


The Conservatives take the same cavalier attitude to fire cover and the rest of our vital public services. 


It would be scaremongering of me to shout there could be a Grenfell in the North East so I'm not but it would be irresponsible to stay silent when Government dangerous cuts are salami slicing our fire service.


Grenfell shocked the nation and whatever questions are asked about the response of fire commanders we must insist the inquiry holds accountable a Tory council and contractors who clad and renovated that block, ignoring the concerns of residents.


Because firefighters were heroic when they entered that furnace to save tenants and residents, people alive today only because crews risked their own lives.


Few of us will ever be in a house or building on fire but if we are, we'll need those firefighters to head to the flames while we're trying to get away.

Meet your MP


Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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