FBU Parliamentary group
On Tuesday the 2nd April, I chaired the FBU Parliamentary group, where MPs covered several important issues for the union.
On 4 March, fire and rescue service employers wrote to the FBU with a pay and conditions offer. This arose from negotiations at the National Joint Council (NJC), the UK-wide collective bargaining body for firefighters pay and conditions. The wider context is a decade of pay cap
The employers offered staged pay increases over three years. However the employers themselves stated that that it was “subject to the necessary additional and sustainable funding”, which means money from central government that has so far not been forthcoming.
The employers offer is also conditional on accepting a “non-exhaustive” – in other words open ended – list of additional roles firefighters would have to include in their role maps.
The FBU’s executive council considered the offer seriously and decided to initiate a consultative ballot of members given the impact on pay and conditions.
There have been a number of developments regarding the Grenfell Tower fire since the last meeting of the group.
Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) finished in December, after sitting for nearly 100 days. The inquiry received 668 statements from firefighters. Most were from the London Fire Brigade, but some were members from other fire and rescue services assisting on the night. It heard oral evidence from 88 firefighters, control staff and officers.
The GTI received 307 witness statements from 275 of the bereaved, survivors and residents (BSRs). Some 35 BSRs gave oral evidence. A total of 266 witness statements were read into the record.
The inquiry is unprecedented, because of the number of core participants and the scope and complexity of the evidence it has to consider. There are currently over 600 core participants, of whom 576 are individuals, 20 are commercial bodies and seven public bodies.
Phase 2 of the GTI is now underway. The chair announced that from January this year around 5,000 documents would be disclosed every week to core participants. He therefore said that further oral testimony would be unlikely until the end of 2019. This is enormously frustrating for BSRs and firefighters, particular was the police have said they will not proceed with any prosecutions until phase 2 is concluded.
So far very few of those who made the key decisions that led to the fire – ministers, local councillors, contractors and firms that sold and installed the cladding – have been subject to scrutiny. As the second anniversary of the fire approaches, many BSRs are rightly angry that matters are proceeding so slowly. 4
On 29 January 2019, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirmed its Local Government Settlement, providing the final figures for the central funding allocated to fire authorities in England.
Figures show that the Westminster government has cut central grant funding, known as the Settlement Funding Assessment (SFA), to fire authorities by 15% overall over the years 2016-17 to 2019-20. One in five firefighter jobs (12,000) have been cut since 2010.
Westminster provided over a billion pounds to fire and rescue services in England in 2016-17. This has since been cut by £155 million. The level of cuts planned for individual fire authorities in England was set out in an FRS Matters bulletin sent to MPs.5
New research by the FBU found that more than 45,000 people were rescued by firefighters in the UK between April 2017 and March 2018. This equates to more than 3,800 rescues a month, or more than 100 rescues every day. Total recorded rescue activity increased by 4% over the last year across the UK. Figures for fire authorities was set out in an FRS Matters bulletin sent to MPs.
These rescues come against a background of similar levels of incidents attended over the last five years, but with continued cuts to the service. The Westminster government does not even publish figures on rescues. Our fire and rescue service needs investment.