Dispute over breach of Data Protection in West Yorkshire

We have lodged a dispute with the Chief Fire Officer of WYFRS over their misuse of the “Silent Witness” policy and CCTV policy, both of which resulted in a breach of the Data Protection Act according to the Information Commissioners Office. As a result of that dispute, we have a meeting scheduled for the 23rd March.
Disappointingly, instead of hearing the dispute himself, our Chief has delegated that responsibility to the Director of HR Ian Brandwood.

As always we keep you as informed as possible.

 

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West Yorkshire FBU SECURE FAIR HOLIDAY PAY FOR RDS STAFF

Firstly I just wanted to thank, both old and new members at Ilkley for raising an issue regarding holiday pay for our RDS members, without it we would never have been able to challenge the misery and wrong holiday pay given to our members after attending courses at FSHQ.
Once we found out that our members pay was wrong we challenged it, informally at first. Despite it being clear in both the Grey book and local policy some managers believed the pittance that our members were given was correct.
At yesterday’s HR committee the head of HR was in agreement with the FBU and therefore our new members, who have recently been on a course, will very shortly receive a substantial payment in respect of loss of holiday pay.

Can you make all our RDS members aware of this victory and I’m sure you join me in congratulating our members at Ilkley in raising it in the first place.

Yours in unity

David Williams
WYFBU Brigade Secretary

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Private money, public mayhem

 

Private money, public mayhem


It would be unacceptable and emotive for any politician to announce in public plans to privatise the UK fire service. Politicians accept that, despite the sustained government sponsored attacks on firefighters in the media, FBU members are still held in very high regard by the public for the work they do protecting their communities.

Politicians have no option but to deny any plans for privatisation. In 2010 the then fire minister, Brandon Lewis, responded to claims that the government was considering the privatisation of the fire service, saying they were “entirely untrue”. At the same time, Mr. Lewis was working actively to support the concept of local mutuals and cooperatives in the UK fire service, most notably in Cleveland.

The public perception of privatisation is usually of some form of “competitive” bidding process, leading to wholesale sell-offs, such as the Tote to Betfred in 2011, or of public flotations on the stock market, like Royal Mail in 2013 and 2015, or a franchise agreement, such as East Coast trains in 2015.

If privatisation is not seen to be taking place in this way, it allows politicians to deny that there any priva­tisation plans. Any other means to partially privatise a fire service goes overlooked.

Before 2002, when Professor Sir George Bain was asked by the government to conduct a wide-ranging review of the UK fire service, privatisation would not have been possible. To attract private investment, operating costs have to be driven down, industry regulations moderated and opposition minimised. Bain’s report, the Independent Review of the Fire Service, led to rapid changes to fire and rescue services, and was the basis of what eventually became the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

Bain’s terms of reference were described in September 2002 as: “… having regard to the changing and developing role of the fire service in the United Kingdom, to inquire into and make recommendations on the future organisation and management of the Fire Service”.

LONG JOURNEY

Bain’s report was unpopular with firefighters. A long period of industrial action began in 2002 and continued until 2003 when a new pay and conditions package was agreed. This overhaul of pay and conditions was the first step of a long journey down Privatisation Road. Like any such journey, there is a beginning, but how you get to the end is a matter of choice and interpretation.

THIS OVERHAUL OF PAY AND CONDITIONS WAS THE FIRST STEP OF A LONG JOURNEY DOWN PRIVATISATION ROAD.

Politicians point to Cleveland and champion its proposed mutual model, supposedly based on the John Lewis Partnership, giving each employee part-ownership of the company, a share of its annual profits, and a say in how it is run. In theory, it encourages employees to be more invested – literally – in their work, and so heightens productivity and profits.

At least, that’s how it is supposed to work at John Lewis. Critics argue that the proposals either pay lip service to the scheme on which they are supposedly based – or are simply a way of making privatisation seem soft and fluffy.

The limiting of the fire service’s statutory duty to perform certain tasks is another way to make privatisation a more attractive proposition. This may explain the reluctance of the government to include flooding as a statutory duty for the fire service in England and Wales (it is already a statutory duty in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

Depending on local contractual arrangements, this would, in effect, allow a private fire provider to choose whether to attend flood incidents.

OUTSOURCING

Outsourcing or contracting out some of a fire service’s function is another way to part privatisation by the back door. The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 allows for fire and rescue authorities to enter such agreements to secure assistance to discharge their functions.

These arrangements can only take place in relation to firefighting if “the person employs firefighters”. The legislation does not state that firefighters have to be public sector workers.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has done exactly this with the outsourcing of its water rescue capability. In 2012, Specialist Group International (SGI) signed a 12-month pilot contract with Surrey County Council to provide a diving service, rope, confined space and swift-water rescue capability for the fire service. As part of this contract, SGI is to provide fire cover at times of industrial action.

Described by the government at the time as “an experiment”, the pilot was extended to 2015 and, at the time of writing, was ongoing.

Peter Faulding, managing director of SGI, would not put a figure on the value of the contract, but suggested that the FBU was wrong when it estimated it was worth more than £1m a year.

Surrey FBU officials have said that 35 full-time firefighters could be hired for that – at a time when there was a shortage of about 60 in the county.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Authority (CFRA), meanwhile, is using private contractor Serco to provide cover for its chronic shortages of firefighters.

TOTAL FAILURE

CFRA freely admits that up to 18 fire engines can be unavailable at any one time because of staff shortages and is prepared to turn to the private sector to cover this shortfall.

This blurring of the public/private sector partner­ship arrangement was employed to launch what many saw as the privatisation of fire control rooms.

The attempted replacement of the 46 fire and rescue services’ control rooms across England with nine “purpose-built” regional control centres, linked by a new IT system, was a total failure.

AUTHORITY ADMITS THAT UP TO 18 FIRE ENGINES CAN BE UNAVAILABLE – COVERS WITH PRIVATE SECTOR

The Department for Communities and Local Government cut its losses by terminating the contract in December 2010, seven years after it had begun, but at least £469m has been wasted.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, lambasted the scheme saying: “This is yet another example of a government IT project taking on a life of its own, absorbing ever-increasing resources without reaching its objectives.

“The rationale and benefits of a regional approach were unclear and badly communicated to locally accountable fire and rescue services, who remained unconvinced. Essential checks and balances in the early stages of the project were ineffective.

UNREALISTIC

“It was approved on the basis of unrealistic estimates of costs and under-appreciation of the complexity of the IT involved and the project was hurriedly imple­mented and poorly managed.”

Another flawed concept in the patchwork of priva­tisation is that of transferring assets into third party ownership, a mistake that cost both London and Lincolnshire fire brigades dear.

Both transferred the provision and maintenance of their vehicles to a company called AssetCo. Only days after settling a £4m bill from HMRC in relation to unpaid VAT and PAYE, the company was facing a winding up petition orchestrated by its own lawyers for outstanding fees. Part of the resulting business restruc­ture saw AssetCo selling its entire UK fleet for just £2.

AssetCo said it left its UK business because the management team believed that operations were “based on a flawed business structure”, which was why shareholders lost so much money.

Another transfer of assets that could have gone badly wrong for several brigades involves Cosalt Plc, a non-trading holding company purported to be a market leader in the supply and service of workwear to the emergency services. Several UK fire services had contracts with the company.

In the week Cosalt was due to take over management of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s contract for PPE, the company went into administration. Only a last-minute deal put together by joint administrator David Kelly (from PriceWaterhouseCoopers) saved the outsourcing of these assets. PWC sold shares in Ballyclare Limited, the remaining part of Cosalt Plc’s trading business to David Ross, the majority shareholder in Cosalt Plc. An interesting turn of events.

The latest privatisation trend is one that was first identified in the USA in the 1980s and is described as “privatisation by attrition”. In America, this was defined as “defunding specific government functions pushing them into the private sector”.

MANY FORMS

In today’s Britain, this is couched in the language of austerity, budgetary constraints and modernisation. As the FBU observed in 2016: “The Westminster government intends to cut its funding to the fire and rescue service by 20% during this parliament. In the last parliament they cut it by 30%. Since 2010, 10,000 frontline firefighter jobs have gone – that is one in six.”

In 2002 the Bain Report opened the door to privati­sation in the UK fire service. It comes in many forms – some can be stand alone, some can be blended into something that, while it doesn’t feel like privatisation, is a definite step towards it.

We have travelled a long way down the murky road to privatisation, and the most important question now is which brigade will try to fully privatise first?

All efforts to hive off any element of the fire and rescue service must be resisted with vigour. A fully privatised fire and rescue service is not something any firefighter wants to see and they and the public they serve should be doing everything they can to prevent it.

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University report into emergency medical response published

Firefighters have attended over 42,000 medical emergencies since co-responding trials commenced in late 2015, a University of Hertfordshire report has found.

The Broadening Responsibilities report was commissioned by the National Joint Council, a body made up of the FBU and fire service employers, and was carried out by independent researchers who were asked to investigate the impact of firefighters undertaking emergency medical response on communities across the UK.

An all members circular released today gives a full briefing on the findings of the report.

Concluding the circular Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, writes: “Overall, the report concludes that emergency medical response is an area of work firefighters could contribute to. The case is particularly strong for Red 1 calls, where time is critical and firefighters could intervene professionally to save lives. They also acknowledge the benefits of other areas of wider work, but this has proven difficult to quantify so far. At present, fire and ambulance services do not record incidents in the same way, making definitive conclusions difficult to draw.

“Members should be aware that the report supports the FBU’s stance that national professional standards are required for training and equipment for this work – something we have argued for strongly in all areas of firefighters’ work. The report also supports the need for best practice guidance to ensure firefighters’ standard operating procedures and safety concerns are dealt with professionally.

“This report is very long, but I would encourage members to read it and discuss it on stations and in Brigade Committees. The union has to decide on the next steps to take over emergency medical response and we therefore need every member to make their views known.”

A recall of the union’s conference was announced earlier this month to discuss the trials. It will take place in Blackpool on 21 March.

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Two senior managers in North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service get a £35k pay rise as 48 frontline firefighter posts face the axe.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has slammed a deal to give two senior managers at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service a £35k pay rise as 48 frontline firefighter posts face the axe.

The union called the decision by North Yorkshire chief fire officer (CFO) Nigel Hutchinson, and members of the county’s fire authority to increase the two officers’ pay to over £112k each, obscene and immoral.

Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “The fire authority’s decision to rubber stamp the CFO’s proposal for these astronomical pay increases to two senior officers in their final year of service is just outrageous and proves there is no real scrutiny of the chief and his decisions.

“The authority plans to raise council tax by the maximum 1.99% for the second year as well as reducing 48 full-time firefighter posts by replacing a standard fire engine with a tactical response vehicle – a miniature fire engine that carries only three firefighters with plans to further reduce to two – seriously limiting our rescue capabilities. Yet they approved a £79k growth in senior management pay – this is immoral and out of touch. Clearly austerity has come to an end for those at the top.

“We are a service in crisis. We do not have enough staff in our control room to answer 999 calls resulting in them being re-directed to Cornwall, a result of cuts to staff numbers placing our remaining control operators in unacceptable and stressful positions. Couple this with as many as 18 fire engines being unavailable on a regular basis proves that senior officers are failing to provide an adequate service to the taxpayer. Yet they receive eye-watering pay increases when they constantly tell us there is no extra cash for firefighters.”

Just this week (13 March) the union reported how no fire engines were immediately available to respond to emergencies from York to Scarborough. There was also no high rise rescue capability in Scarborough and only one out of the two appliances available. In the Malton area, where no fire engines were available, response times to emergencies hit 30 minutes as engines had to come from further afield.

It is believed that the additional pension cost burden to the taxpayer for the two pay increases in the final 12 months of the managers’ careers will be around £2.4m over the estimated pension lifespan.

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TRANSITION TO THE 2015 FIREFIGHTERS’ PENSION SCHEME: DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS: APPEAL

We have previously reported (circular 2017HOC0108MW) the disappointing outcome of the Employment Tribunal relating to pensions, in which we were unsuccessful.  We have today attended a case conference with our legal advisors to discuss this outcome and the way forward.

You will also be aware that a case very similar to our own had been registered on behalf of judges. As we have previously reported, the judges were successful in their case at the Employment Tribunal. The legal arguments in both cases were very similar. Indeed, our legal advisors felt that in various areas, the firefighters’ case was stronger. So the situation is that two employment tribunals, considering two cases with similar, and often overlapping sets of argument, have reached opposite conclusions. There is an obvious legal contradiction.

Prior to the judgements, the government had made clear in both cases (the FBU case and the judges’ case) that if it lost the case, it would appeal the decision. An appeal is therefore expected against the decision in the judges’ case and would also have been expected had we been successful. Therefore it was always most likely that the legal arguments made in relation to both cases would end up at an appeal. The next appeal stage is to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

Our legal advisors remain confident that we have strong legal arguments and a strong basis for an appeal. I can therefore confirm that we have instructed our lawyers to start the process of appealing the judgement of the Employment Tribunal. The Executive Council had previously agreed this position subject to the meeting with the legal team. The union will not give up the fight for pension’s justice.

Further information will follow when available.Yours fraternally

MATT WRACK
General Secretary

Posted in Pension

TRANSITION TO THE 2015 FIREFIGHTERS’ PENSION SCHEME: DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

Circular: 2017HOC0108MW

Dear Brother/Sister

TRANSITION TO THE 2015 FIREFIGHTERS’ PENSION SCHEME: DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

The Employment Tribunal’s decision in the age discrimination claims we have been fighting has just been published. I’m sorry to say that we lost.

Our legal team has analysed the reasoning, and their preliminary view is that this judgment is not at all convincing. We will have to consider all of the issues carefully with them, with a view to deciding whether we will appeal.

As reported previously, a parallel Employment Tribunal decision concerning the Judicial Pension Scheme was published in the middle of January, where the claimants won. Our legal advisors comment that it is extremely difficult to see how the two decisions can be reconciled.

We always recognised that this was going to be a long battle. This is clearly an extremely disappointing outcome. However, I would remind members that we have been in similar legal positions before. We initially lost our case in relation to our claims over Part Time Workers. We were ultimately successful in that case.

We will consult urgently with our legal advisors and I will let you know when a decision has been made regarding an appeal.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

 

Matt Wrack
General Secretary

MW/sll

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Fire chief slammed after firefighters sent home from shift

A chief fire officer has been accused of behaving wrecklessly after he sent home two firefighters from their shift on Monday (16 Jan) when they refused to operate a Tactical Response Vehicle (TRV).

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) say that these vehicles are unsafe because they cannot perform firefighting or rescue operations at incidents where there is a risk to life, such as house fires.

Nigel Hutchinson, chief fire officer for North Yorkshire, took the decision after a fire engine was removed from service at Scarborough fire station and replaced with a TRV.

The two firefighters followed union guidance and refused to crew the vehicle. They were then relieved for the remainder of their shift and sent home leaving Scarborough without enough crew members to operate one of its fire engines or specialist equipment used to for high rise rescues.

Steve Howley, secretary of the FBU in North Yorkshire, said: “The actions of the CFO were uncalled for and unnecessary. He has sullied his reputation and put the safety of the public at risk. It is disgraceful that our members are being victimised by management for standing up to defend the safety of their colleagues and the public. It confirms a total disregard for public and firefighter safety.

“The way that managers want to utilise and crew TRV’s is creating a major safety issue and moral dilemma for our firefighters. If these vehicles were the first ones to respond to a major fire, as management has indicated they could be, all they could do is survey the scene. They cannot perform rescue operations and have limited firefighting capabilities.

“These proposals are going to significantly increase the risk to firefighters and the public getting seriously injured or killed.”

The FBU in North Yorkshire is in a lawful trade dispute with the local fire authority over the introduction of TRV’s that are crewed by as few as two firefighters.

The proposals were due to be phased in over a four year period so that the service and union could fully explore different efficiency savings.

However, the union now feels that the CFO is trying to ‘railroad’ the TRV’s into service over the next six months despite the safety concerns the FBU have raised remaining unanswered.

Posted in Industrial Action

Cuts to blame for rising fire deaths as Home Office publish new figures

The number of people who have died as a result of fires in the home has increased significantly according to a report published by the Home Office today.

The Fire Incident Response Times statistical bulletin reveals that in England between April 2015 and March 2016, the number of fatalities from fires in the home increased by 17.4% compared with the same period in 2014/15. This meant there were 34 more deaths than in the previous year.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says these figures show how the government’s cost cutting exercise in the fire and rescue service has backfired.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “Firefighters are doing their best to provide a world class service but the government have compromised the service by axing thousands of posts, closing fire stations and cutting equipment. It is the public who will pay the price of the government’s folly. The decision to prioritise budget cuts ahead of public safety is another example of how out of touch this government is.”

The report also found that the average response time to primary fires had increased by 31 seconds since 2010. In rural areas, the figure was even worse with fire crews taking on average 48 seconds longer to get to emergencies.

Wrack added: “In a fire, every second counts. Those extra seconds might not sound like long, and ministers will try to dismiss them, but in an emergency, that time can be the difference between life and death.”

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The government and fire service employers in England and Wales are in court today over discriminatory pensions

The government and fire service employers in England and Wales are in court today (10 Jan) defending a pension scheme in which some younger firefighters will have to save more than 85% of their wage in order to access the same pension value as their older colleagues.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says this is a “textbook” example of age discrimination against younger firefighters.

The introduction of the 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme saw thousands of younger firefighters compulsorily transferred into a scheme where they have to work until 60, pay more and work for longer only to receive a pension that is greatly reduced in value.

The FBU argues that firefighters younger than age 45 on 1 April 2012 were unfairly penalised as they were forced into a worse scheme whereas older firefighters were allowed to remain in their original scheme.

Now five test cases are being heard in court on behalf of the thousands of firefighters affected.

As well as age discrimination, the union has produced evidence of racial and gender discrimination in the scheme. A disproportionate number of women and ethnic minority firefighters were affected by the changes as they make up a bigger proportion of workforce aged 45 or under.

Despite fierce opposition from the FBU, involving over 50 periods of strike action between 2013 – 2015, the government imposed the new scheme that the FBU says is unworkable.

The union argues that the new pension arrangements raise safety concerns as it means firefighters aged 60 have to undertake physically demanding operation tasks. At the same time, all the backroom jobs have disappeared as part of budget-driven staff reduction.

The FBU has provided large amounts of evidence from occupational fitness experts that show significant numbers will not be able to maintain safe fitness standards until the new pension age of 60.

Sean Starbuck, FBU national officer, said: “Older firefighters were allowed to remain in their current scheme while the message to younger firefighters seems to be change your lifestyle, save a lot more and get on with being a member of a worse scheme.

“This is an extremely important case for us. We have always said that the 2015 scheme was unworkable and did not reflect the job that firefighters actually do. The government simply ignored the evidence we presented and imposed the scheme anyway. We identified areas where we thought younger firefighters were being discriminated against and took up this challenge.

“Our financial advice shows that some firefighters will have to save more than 85% of what they actually earn to make up for what they have lost by this imposition. Simply saying change your lifestyle and save more adds insult to injury. But again instead of talking to us they would rather fight with us so we end up in court.”

One the test cases being heard in court involves a firefighter who currently earns £29,054 a year. He would have to save approximately £25,400 each year to make up for lost pension benefits.

Read a circular from Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, about the legal challenge.

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