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FBU bristles at “co-ordinated attack” on firefighters and Fire and Rescue Service

22 July 2022

THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) has formally responded to the Government’s Fire and Rescue Service White Paper, describing the latter as a “co-ordinated attack” on pay and conditions. In its consultation response, the Trade Union criticises a range of elements in the White Paper which has been issued in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

These elements include an attack on firefighters’ right to have a say on their pay and conditions, including many conditions relating to safety, and proposals that could result in industrial action – a last resort to protect the Fire and Rescue Service and firefighters’ pay and conditions – being weakened or undermined.

The White Paper’s “attacks” on the Fire and Rescue Service more broadly come in the form of a lack of any direct plans or resources being put in place to deliver the Fire and Rescue Service the public receives together with proposals to boost chief fire officers’ powers. The latter encompass areas that have a direct effect on the Fire and Rescue Service the public receives such as reducing the number of firefighters, how quickly fires are responded to, reducing night-time cover and shift systems in general.

This week, firefighters visited Parliament to lobby MPs in a bid to stop the Government from “removing their voice” and protect pay and conditions, with many more such visits set to follow during the course of this latest campaign.

“Scandalous attack”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “It’s absolutely scandalous that the Government has launched this co-ordinated attack on the pay and conditions of hard-working firefighters and on the Fire and Rescue Service itself. Apparently, it’s not enough that firefighters, like everyone else, are going through a cost of living crisis ultimately of the Government’s making. Instead, the Government thinks that now is the right moment to try and strip them of hard-won rights that protect their pay and conditions. We have firefighters struggling to pay bills and pay their mortgages. These proposed changes would only make things far worse for them.”

Wrack continued: “Firefighters go to work to save lives. They risk their health, safety and sometimes their own lives in doing so. The very least they deserve is to be free from co-ordinated attacks on their livelihoods and safety and to be paid properly while also being treated fairly.”

Further, Wrack observed: “When it comes to the Fire and Rescue Service itself, we are clear. Chief fire officers cannot be trusted to get it right on their own, especially so on vital matters such as how quickly we respond to fires and the number of firefighters in each Fire and Rescue Service. Debacles such as chief fire officers standing by while deep cuts were made and wasting millions of pounds of public money on equipment that didn’t work or wasn’t suitable show that to be the case.”

Embellishing this point, Wrack asserted: “More power for chief fire officers over matters like the number of firefighters, attendance times or night cover will make the public’s Fire and Rescue Service worse. The evidence on that is absolutely clear.”

Terms and Conditions

The attack on firefighters’ right to have a say on their Terms and Conditions comes in the form of a proposed review which will very likely consider replacing collective bargaining in the Fire and Rescue Service with a pay review body (ie a process by which ministers would unilaterally decide pay).

The White Paper also proposes the transfer of Fire and Rescue Service governance to a single figure. This could involve Police and Crime Commissioners taking over Fire and Rescue Services or alternatively that task would fall to a Mayor or a single councillor.

The Trade Union is of the view that this is less democratic than a council structure as a whole governing Fire and Rescue Services and also believes that the scrutiny proposals in these structures are not strong enough.