Executive Council interim statement – 23 October 2014
This statement is issued to update FBU members on the latest discussions with Penny Mordaunt, DCLG Fire Minister.
The Executive Council is still in session and will be discussing our next steps this afternoon. The outcome of these considerations will be issued as soon as possible.
No revised proposals from DCLG – Pension theft continues!
The FBU has consistently opposed government attacks on firefighter pensions. We have presented large quantities of professional evidence to demonstrate that the government proposals do not take account of the real operational demands of the firefighter’s occupation and the standards which are required as a result. Despite this opposition we have attempted to negotiate in good faith and have taken up every opportunity to make our case and to seek changes to the government’s proposed and unworkable scheme.
Following strike action in August a meeting with the DCLG fire minister, Penny Mordaunt, appeared to open the possibility for movement on a number of key issues.
The Minister acknowledged to FBU negotiators that some firefighters may not be able to remain operational until the normal pension age of 60. This was the first time a DCLG minister had acknowledged this fact in any meeting during the past three years of talks.
The Minister, at a subsequent meeting, informed FBU negotiators that she would be able to deliver a pension regulation which would protect firefighters from the threat of capability dismissals arising from an age related decline in fitness after age 55. The FBU has been arguing for this improvement for many months as a mechanism to address one of our concerns. This approach had previously been completely rejected by DCLG ministers.
As part of this process, FBU negotiators were asked to provide draft wordings for a regulation and to make arrangements for lawyers from each side to discuss the detail of the proposal and how it might fit within wider pension regulations.
In a further signal that these concerns were apparently being taken seriously, the Minister also asked to meet representatives of women firefighters through the FBU National Women’s Committee. This meeting took place and two national FBU women officials (both operational firefighters) set out very clearly the key concerns of all firefighters (men and women) regarding fitness standards and ageing. In addition they set out the further risks to women firefighters
The Minister agreed to reconsider and re-examine other key issues which had also previously been ruled out. This included the issue of transitional protection for members of the 1992 scheme. She acknowledged the anger of firefighters on this issue and agreed to look again at whether improvements could be made. Again, this was the first time in many months a minister had even been willing to discuss this issue.
The Minister and her team confirmed that they were seriously considering the issue of revised actuarial reductions which might benefit all pension scheme members seeking to retire before the age of 60. This has been a key aim for the FBU throughout our campaign as we have never accepted that firefighters in large numbers will be able to work operationally until 60 or beyond.
The Minister repeatedly delayed the laying of pension regulations, so as to allow discussions, legal consideration and internal government dialogue to conclude.
FBU negotiators have always conducted negotiations honestly and in good faith. Despite reservations, the Executive Council felt it was essential to follow up the offer of further dialogue on these key issues. The Executive Council is clear the role of our negotiators is to explore any and every possibility of improvement in relation to the current attacks on our members’ pensions. To do anything else would be a serious failing of responsibility to our members.
In addition to the assurances given to FBU negotiators, the DCLG fire minister assured firefighters in face to face meetings and in various open letters that she was seeking to deliver “the best deal possible for firefighters and to resolve this dispute.” (Open letter to Firefighters 22 August 2014.) In view of the fact the Brandon Lewis had previously stated that he simply intended to proceed with the existing proposals, Penny Mordaunt’s statement could only be interpreted as an indication that she was now willing to consider alternatives to the proposals Brandon Lewis had announced.
Meeting with DCLG 22 October:
After numerous delays a meeting was scheduled for yesterday (22 October) to hear the outcome of these various strands of work and the considerations within government. However, despite all the assurances given about seeking to deliver the “best deal possible for firefighters,” the Minister informed FBU negotiators that there would be no revision of government proposals on any of the issues discussed. The “best possible deal” was to be exactly the same as that set out months ago by Brandon Lewis. She informed the FBU that she would proceed with the laying of pension regulations.
The Minister stated that she was keen to address the concerns of the FBU and of firefighters regarding fitness and capability and intended to do this by means of a public consultation over an addition/amendment to the national framework. She and her team claimed that this would provide the assurances that firefighters were seeking on this issue.
FBU members will be well aware that this particular issue has been discussed before – and at great length. The FBU and our legal advisors have exposed very clearly and rigorously that the claims of DCLG on this issue are entirely hollow. Advice, guidance or instruction issued under the National Framework will not provide the protection we seek for our members facing a decline in fitness due to age and the risk of capability dismissal which arises from this.
Firefighters will be utterly outraged at the outcome of this meeting. It is unclear what precisely has happened over the past four weeks within government or exactly who in government has taken the key decisions. However, what is clear is that this government as a whole does not have the slightest concern for the wellbeing of firefighters or for the future of our fire and rescue service.
All the nice words in open letters or made on visits to fire stations cannot avoid the fact that this government is robbing firefighters – and other workers – of their pension rights. It always was – and it remains – an utter outrage. Executive Council additional statement – 23 October 2014
Alternative proposals for Wales
Firefighter pensions are a devolved matter. This has meant that the FBU negotiators have held discussions with the four governments covering all parts of the UK. Our members in England and Wales have been taking strike action as a result of the refusal of the relevant governments to present any alternative proposals for consideration by members.
Over the past few weeks, alongside our discussions with officials of DCLG, discussions have continued with officials of the other governments. This afternoon the General Secretary received communication from the Welsh government. This confirms that the fire minister in Wales (Minister for Public Services) is now making preparations to consult on an alternative pension scheme design which would take account of a number of technical arguments which the FBU has raised during negotiations. These are arguments which have so far been rejected by DCLG in relation to the English proposals.
The Executive Council has only just received this communication and has not yet had the opportunity to assess the impact or the implications for the proposed pension scheme in Wales. However, it appears likely to be of some significance for large numbers of FBU members.
The changed position in Wales will need to be considered in relation to the lack of any revised proposals from DCLG.
The Executive Council has extended its meeting and remains in session. A further report will follow the conclusion of the meeting tomorrow.
The Executive Council is now considering the next political, legal and industrial steps in our campaign.