Council’s backing for firefighters in pensions dispute

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.

Northumberland County Council passed a motion this week urging the Government to negotiate a fair settlement in the long-running firefighters’ pension dispute.

It comes ahead of the latest period of strike action by the Fire Brigades Union. It’s the 18th period of action since the dispute began and the 24-hour strike starts at 9am on Tuesday.

Alex Bennett, Chief Fire Officer for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: “As always, when there are periods of strike action, we’re asking people to remain extra vigilant. Many people now have their Christmas decorations up and it’s important people check any festive lights are in good working order and aren’t left on when the house is empty.

“At this time of year, people also need to take more care on the roads and leave extra time for journeys as lower temperatures can bring icy conditions, increasing the risk of accidents.

“The public can be reassured we have robust plans in place to provide a fire and rescue response during industrial action and are again putting these plans in place. It’s important to stress it will not be business as usual however. We have also contacted businesses and other premises to assist them in further minimising the risk from fire and other emergencies.”

At the full meeting of the county council on Wednesday, the motion to back Hilary Benn MP’s early day motion, put forward by Coun Terry Johnstone, was backed by 41 votes to none, while 14 councilors abstained.

Negotiations are still taking place in Scotland and Wales as the devolved governments consult on revised pension offers, but the same is not true with the Westminster government.

Guy Tiffin, FBU brigade official, said: “This is a clear statement by Northumberland council. If the devolved governments of the UK can all genuinely negotiate on pensions and avoid strike action, then Westminster can do the same.

“Firefighters in England have been forced into strike action as Westminster are not listening, are robbing our pensions and do not want to see firefighters get a fire service pension that is appropriate to the occupation. It is entirely in the hands of the Westminster government to end this dispute and make a fair offer to firefighters in England.”

Coun Johnstone, Labour member for Bedlington West, said: “We, the people of Northumberland, have come to rely on the bravery, professionalism and steadfastness of our fire and rescue service in times of need. Now in their time of need, the responsibility falls to us to come to the aid of our brave firefighters, before their rights at work and their pensions go up in smoke.”

As a result of the motion, the county council will write to Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt.

In an open letter to firefighters on Friday, Ms Mordaunt said: “Those of you in the Fire Brigades Union have once again been asked to undertake 24 hours of strike action next week. I know that this causes many of you much concern, and puts strain and stress on you and your colleagues.

“Unfortunately, it also causes damage to the reputation of the fire and rescue service as a whole. Strike action is entirely counterproductive to the Fire Brigades Union cause and I am left wondering what the point is of this current proposed action. It would have been more productive for the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union to have responded to my request to set out formally what would end the dispute.

“We have received a number of responses to our consultation on amending the National Framework for Fire and Rescue, the deadline for which is December 9. We will be reviewing the responses carefully and I very much hope to be able to let you know my final decision swiftly.

“In the meantime, my thanks goes to those who will be holding the fort and protecting the public next week.”