The public will be put at risk if Keir Starmer drops his plan to spend £28bn a year on green investment, according to the head of the Fire Brigades Union, who warned his members were already experiencing the effects of the climate crisis.
Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, urged the Labour leader not to scale back or delay the party’s green scheme, which he said was essential for combatting a steep increase in floods, wildfires and storms.
Wrack called on Starmer to include mitigation measures such as flood defences in the plan as well as more long-term investment aimed at cutting carbon emissions. His intervention comes at the beginning of a key week for the future of the plan, with officials preparing to meet in the coming days to debate whether it should go ahead.
Wrack said: “If Labour doesn’t spend this money it will put our members at risk, but it will also put communities at risk, especially in areas which are at risk of wildfires or major floods. It will increase the strain on the fire service and the risk to firefighters.”
Firefighters have been dealing with rapidly rising numbers of floods and wildfires in recent years, which scientists say is a direct result of climate breakdown.
In 2018 there were 65 wildfire incidents in Britain, according to the National Fire Chiefs Council. Three years later that had more than doubled to 178. Government data shows flooding incidents in England have increased by nearly a quarter in the last decade.
Wrack said his members were struggling to cope with the increase in extreme weather events, and that people were being put at risk as a result. Heavy rains from Storm Henk flooded about 2,000 homes earlier this year as a month’s worth of rainfell in some parts of the UK in just four days.
“We are potentially leaving people in a dangerous and vulnerable position, for example with no power in their homes or stranded on the upper floor of a house when the ground floor is flooded,” he said.
The government plans to spend just over £220m on flood defences this year, but Wrack wants Labour to use its green prosperity plan to increase that figure.
“Part of the scheme needs to be about emergency planning and preparation,” he said. “We think the fire service can play a central role in that.”
Starmer has said in recent weeks that he remains committed to the policy of spending £28bn on environmental investments by the second half of the parliament, though the figure will be limited by how much Labour can borrow while still sticking to its strict fiscal rules. The party has promised only to borrow as much as it can while still being able to forecast that debt will start falling as a share of economic output in five years’ time.
The Labour leader also used a meeting with union leaders last week to reassure them about his commitment to the scheme.
However, Labour sources say Starmer and his senior allies are still willing to drop the policy before the election if they decide it is too much of a liability in an election campaign. The Conservatives are preparing to feature the Labour pledge heavily in their campaign material, arguing it can only be funded by higher borrowing or more tax rises.