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Fire Service - Concerns Increasing over Firefighters' Strike


24th October 2002

Jonathan Djanogly called on the Government and the FBU to stop digging themselves into even deeper entrenched positions in order to avoid what could be a prolonged strike with the certain likelihood of avoidable deaths resulting.

Jonathan Djanogly, the Member of Parliament for the Huntingdon Constituency, called on the Government and the FBU to stop digging themselves into even deeper entrenched positions in order to avoid what could be a prolonged strike with the certain likelihood of avoidable deaths resulting.

Mr Djanogly said:

"There is no doubting that the local situation is grave. It looks as though all FBU full time firefighters will be walking out in Huntingdon, St Neots and St Ives, and my understanding is that even the retained (part time)firefighters will also be joining the strike. Military firefighters will be based at Brampton and retained crews will provide a limited service at St Ives and St Neots, although this itself could be limited by picketing. I would appeal to local firefighters to allow retained crews to continue to save lives and assist the military back up where required.

The strike raises many questions from a fire service point of view as well as a political point of view. With at least half a dozen other public sector services staff demanding higher pay, it looks as though Gordon Brown is digging his heels in. He is clearly more interested in setting an example to quiet the demands across the public sector, rather than trying to come to a fair settlement with the firefighters. Furthermore, Gordon Brown's position gives some credence to the FBU, noting that the Bain's Inquiry is irrelevant - why hold an inquiry if the result is predetermined?

Whilst Gordon Brown's attitude is unhelpful, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott MP, has led negotiations into a shambles. Mr Prescott spoke about needing a fundamental review of firefighters' pay months ago, but failed to take any action to set up a review until September - by which time, deadlock with the unions had already been reached. The Bain review is not expected to report until December - so the Government have missed the boat.

Whilst the Government have been incompetent, the FBU's pay claim of over a 40% increase, at a time when inflation is so low, is clearly unrealistic. The need for all sides to sort this out is vital. Not only will unnecessary life be lost through such action, but the cost of equipping 20,000 troops, bringing regiments back from Germany and funding the contingency operations, quite apart from our troops being diverted from military duties, should make the parties realise that this needs to be sorted out."

Mr Djanogly added:

"When one looks at firefighters' pay and conditions, it is clear that little has changed since the 1950's. Although having left it much too late, the Government should now urgently look to end national pay bargaining, outdated working practices and incorporate a no strike agreement in return for a new day pay package settlement to their strike. To the extent that these issues do need looking at, it seems unacceptable that the FBU have told its members not to participate in the Bain review.

The Government all over the place with this strike with the Prime Minister's advisers contradicting the Deputy Prime Minister's advisers - indeed Mr Prescott was forced to make a statement to the House yesterday only after I and two other Members demanded that he make a statement. For an essential life-saving service - this is totally unacceptable."

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