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FBU demands meeting with Home Secretary over Bibby Stockholm fire safety

07 August 2023

THE FIRE Brigades Union has written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to raise concerns over fire safety in asylum seeker accommodation, including the Bibby Stockholm. The engineless barge owned by shipping and marine operations company Bibby Line is currently moored in Portland, Dorset and earmarked for asylum seeker accommodation “in the coming days”.

Photograph: Ashley Smith. Reproduced under CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Firefighters would be called upon to respond to any fires aboard the Bibby Stockholm. The Trade Union is concerned about a potential lack of ingress and exit points, narrow corridors and doorways and increased occupancy.

Dubbed by some commentators as a ‘flotel’, the barge was originally built to house 222 people, but is now expected to accommodate upwards of 500.

The Fire Brigades Union has already criticised the Government’s plans to exempt asylum seeker accommodation from requirements for an HMO license. The HMO licencing process means that local authorities have a duty to check that adequate safety measures are in place along with the correct fire safety systems.

Ben Selby, assistant general secretary at the Fire Brigades Union and the author of the letter to Suella Braverman, said: “The Fire Brigades Union represents the overwhelming majority of firefighters and emergency Control Room staff across the UK. They will be forced to deal with the consequences of any fire on board the Bibby Stockholm.”

Selby continued: “As firefighters, we are driven by the need to prevent loss of life and protect public safety. Everyone has the right to live in safe and decent housing, no matter where they may be from.”

Further, Selby noted: “The Government has already scrapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people on an offshore barge designed to hold around 200. This is a cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers, and also puts the safety of firefighters at risk.”

In addition, Selby asserted: “For more than a decade, we have suffered from falling wages, declining living standards and public services being cut to the bone. Attacking asylum seekers will not build a single house, train a single nurse or pay anyone a decent wage. It’s a technique for dividing working people and pitting them against each other.”

Links to Labour

Following the Fire Brigades Union’s warnings over asylum seeker accommodation on the Bibby Stockholm, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden suggested in a BBC interview that the Trade Union was only raising fire safety concerns because of its links to Labour.

In response, Selby said: “The Fire Brigades Union is the professional voice of firefighting. We represent the overwhelming majority of firefighters, Control Room staff and fire safety inspectors. Fire safety is a serious matter and this situation calls for a grown-up approach. We are sounding the alarm because it’s our duty to do so.”

Selby went on to state: “Speaking out for the safety of the public and our members has nothing to do with our democratically decided political affiliation, and it’s disgraceful for Oliver Dowden to suggest that it does.”
At the time of writing, the Fire Brigades Union has yet to receive a response to its request from the Home Secretary.