“Emergency services are heading for disaster” – say academic researchers

Continued attacks on public sector employment in the age of austerity have left frontline emergency services bereft of morale, stressed and under-valued, concludes new research by a University of Wolverhampton industrial relations expert.

Spending cuts from central government have left managers in the blue-light emergency services facing an increasingly fraught labour problem according to Professor Roger Seifert of the University’s Business School.

Professor Seifert, along with Dr Kim Mather at Keele, carried out a series of interviews with emergency service personnel and union representatives for the research, published in the journal Capital & Class.

The need to cut costs while protecting frontline emergency services has led to intensified and extended working conditions for many emergency service personnel, with their managers under increasing pressure to do more with less in the climate of austerity.

The researchers found that service standards in England’s Fire, Ambulance and Police services are compromised by austerity policies that compel managers to implement changes to their workforces, in spite of concerns among staff and their unions.

The research identified that different management strategies deployed across emergency services have led to low morale, poor employee relations and inappropriate workforce organisation, with potentially disastrous outcomes for the emergency services should this pattern continue.

Creeping privatisation, the civilianisation of the workforce, the redefinition of job boundaries and the rise of cheaper ‘assistant roles’ (such as Police Community Support Officers and ambulance technicians), are all cited as management responses to the austerity challenge.

The research suggests that these strategies bring increased risk to the public – through a weakening in community relations among Police Forces, lower-skilled or underqualified crews staffing ambulance responses, or the neglect of crucial fire and accident prevention work in favour of emergency response calls in the Fire Service, particularly in rural areas.

Professor Seifert comments: “Our emergency services are heading for disaster, particularly if this austerity regime continues. Management strategies adopted to address workforce challenges in the climate of austerity have created a false economy where decisions are taken for political expedience rather than sustainable workforce planning.

“With real-terms budget cuts and a squeeze on staff pay, morale in the emergency services is unsurprisingly low. Yet public expectations for an effective, timely response to emergencies remain unchanged. It is therefore imperative that managers try to implement changes to the workforce in a way that prevents the further alienation of frontline staff, while maintaining the provision of an effective blue-light service to the public.”

ENDS

For more information please contact James Allen in the Media Relations Office on 01902 322003.

Date Issued: Tuesday December 13 2016

Notes to editors

The research was published in the journal ‘Capital & Class’ (October 2016) in a paper entitled Heading for disaster: Extreme work and skill mix changes in the emergency services of England.

Roger Seifert is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Wolverhampton. He is a researcher and consultant in the field of industrial relations, especially on strikes, trade unions, pay determination, Labour Party trade union relations, and public sector employment.

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