Westminster blamed for firefighters’ strike

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

The Government has been criticised for failing to negotiate in an attempt to resolve the pensions disupte ahead of tomorrow’s 24-hour strike action by firefighters.

As previously reported by the Gazette, the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) has called for another walkout, which is set to take place tomorrow from 7am until 7am on Thursday.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Government ministers have ignored three written requests in the last few weeks by the union to meet to try to resolve this dispute. Government ministers are quick to call this union ‘militant’ and yet it’s them who still refuse to talk to us when we remain ready to meet and negotiate at any time.

“Firefighters from all across the UK are attending a rally in Westminster on Wednesday in a No More Lies protest aiming to hold this Government accountable for the way it has misled Parliament, the public and firefighters alike.”

According to the union, the strike action is confined to England because the Scottish Government has significantly improved its earlier pension offer, the Welsh Government has recently followed suit and in Northern Ireland, legislation has been agreed that firefighters should be able to retire with an unreduced pension from age 55 instead of the 60 that has been imposed elsewhere.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “All fire and rescue authorities have robust and well-tested strike contingency plans in place that include back up support if needed. Public safety is our priority and if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 999 and they will get a response from their fire and rescue service.

“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection. We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so. If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”

Plans are in place to provide fire and rescue cover in Northumberland during the upcoming period of industrial action.

Paul Hedley, deputy chief fire officer for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: “As always, when there are periods of strike action, we’re asking everyone to remain extra vigilant.

“Although it hasn’t been a severe winter, people need to take care on the roads and leave plenty of time for journeys as lower temperatures can still 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. However, it is important to stress it will not be business as usual.”