Bain review comment: as FIRE went to press the Bain review was just about to publish its findings. The following is comment on the review, and its position paper from the main protagonists in the dispute. For full discussion of the Bain review's findings see www.fire-magazine.com and the February issue - News: strike special
The Independent Review have demonstrated that they have most certainly listened to the Fire Service and other stakeholders in terms of what a modern Fire Service needs to acquire in order to deliver an even better service to the public.
CHIEF AND ASSISTANT CHIEF FIRE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION--MANAGERS
The 11.3 per cent pay award over 12 months, coupled with the proposed new pay formula and the ability for staff to enhance their salary through payment for specialist skills and overtime payments (for those who wish to do so), mean that firefighters and control room staff could receive a significant increase in their earnings within a short timescale. In addition to this, the proposals to open up broader career opportunities for control room staff, and harmonisation of entry and training standards for our current retained staff are most welcome and should be embraced by all stakeholders in the Service.
This position paper, and the final report to be published in December 2002, is a logical blueprint that needs to be implemented without delay. It will enhance staff earnings and career opportunities for years to come and not just in the short term.
CACFOA is, however, concerned that as yet no additional funding has been assured to allow the employers to implement a full package of these necessary reforms and, in addition, I wish to express our disappointment at the initial pay offer (at least 4 per cent), which may not be sufficient to encourage staff to embrace this modernising agenda. We are seeking an urgent meeting with Government in order to discuss the possibility of an improved "front-loaded" offer within realistic financial parameters, which would allow staff and, hopefully, the Fire Brigades Union, to proceed with these reforms.
In conclusion, the Bain position paper will lead to an improved service, improved reward and career development for everyone and should be implemented without delay.
ASSOCIATION OF PRINCIPAL FIRE OFFICERS--MANAGERS
The increasingly bitter public exchanges between parties in the Fire Service dispute have prompted the Association of Principal Fire Officers to issue this further position statement. The association, whose members manage and lead the Fire Service, has watched with increasing dismay the continual attacks on the professionalism and effectiveness of the Fire Service. As APFO has made clear, to both the national employers and the Bain enquiry, the Service is not failing nor is it poor performing. There is no question that there is a need for modernisation in terms of the legislation upon which the Service is founded, in the working practices of employees and of the policy making and negotiating structures which currently exist. However, modernisation can only be achieved by the constructive engagement of all parties and the recognition that all must play their part in taking the changes forward. The continual denigration of the Service, and the denial of the significant progress which has already been achieved is not, we believe, the means by which to build a Service of the future. Moreover, speculative calls for significant job cuts without any explanation or rationale add nothing to the debate. Rather it is a recipe for a demoralised workforce and further disaffection, which can only prolong the conflict.
APFO has committed itself and will continue to make a positive contribution to the current enquiry. However, we would urge all stakeholders to work and act responsibly to develop a Fire Service of which all of us, employee, employer, government and most importantly the public, can feel rightly proud. APFO emphasised a number of key points to the Bain team:
* That Principal Fire Officers view with deep dismay the situation which has now developed.
* To some extent this is symptomatic not just of a pay and funding issue, but of a more widespread neglect of the Fire Service, something which Principal Officers have been warning about for some time.
* That the Fire Service remains a professional and succeeding service. However, this is achieved in spite of the absence of an adequate vision, policy structures or funding.
* Principal Fire Officers have struggled with this situation for years now without proper recognition. Our sincere hope is that the inquiry recognises the job principal managers have done to date in holding the industry together and makes a recommendation which addresses the current strategic, structural and funding neglect.
FIRE BRIGADES UNION
Blair insists our pay demands cannot be met and says every penny of pay rise above four per cent must be financed through savings from `modernisation'. Yet, far from saving money it will cost extra. The first costings of the Bain enquiry, leaked to the press, show that proposed changes in working practices would cost an extra 41 million [pounds sterling]. It would cost 18 million [pounds sterling] for overtime. It would cost 4 million [pounds sterling] for new shift patterns for part-time working. It would cost millions for paramedic training and equipment, and new joint control rooms.
We have costed it and by making an investment of 1 billion [pounds sterling] in equipment and wages the same amount would be saved in reduced fire damage. An improved fire service would also save 68 more lives.
We all know where the savings the Government is talking about will come from: cuts to the amount of firefighters, the number of fire engines and fire stations.
One of the many issues being looked at by the review is changes to regulation/legislation, which will remove responsibility for legislative fire safety from the Fire Service. This is a deliberate and malicious attempt to undermine the Fire Service and is expected to form part of the Bain recommendations. It has the potential for massive job losses in the UK Fire Service.
In a letter being sent to Nick Raynsford MP, senior national health officer Maggie Dunn, says plans to merge emergency control rooms would turn them into call centres: "Anyone that has had to deal with a call centre will know just how difficult and frustrating the experience can be. You can't afford to have `call waiting' while lives are at risk. If they are really keen on saving money why not go the whole hog and do what some banks have already done, divert calls to Bombay--no doubt they will save even more money, but what about lives?" Dunn also described government suggestions of the jobs of various dispatchers were interchangeable as a "gross simplification".
In its submission to the Bain Inquiry the Equal Opportunities Commission commented that it was no accident that this group of workers are, predominantly women and therefore not paid the equivalent rate of their firefighter colleagues. Without their skills the response times of the Service and its effectiveness in protecting the lives of the public and of firefighters would be greatly reduced.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION--EMPLOYERS
The FBU claims the Fire Service has been modernised. But modernisation is a continual mechanism by which more lives could be saved:
* Today, we should be able to use firefighters when and where they are most needed to protect our community, but we are unable to do so because the FBU prevents change;
* All other workers are allowed to work overtime, but firefighters are prevented from doing so due to restricted union policy;
* Firefighters can save lives by the use of defibrillators but union policy prevents this. It is estimated that in Cleveland alone, with a population of 560,000, this would save a minimum of 150 lives per year;
* The length of shifts are not attractive to women applicants;
* The FBU opposes change in working patterns to create a family friendly service; and
* We wish to move towards joint core handling facilities with other blue light emergency services in neighbouring brigades. The FBU policy prevents this and we therefore cannot make efficiency savings to reinvest in the Service.
We have said all along that Local Government Employers could not fund an offer of more than four per cent and were unlikely to do so unless significant changes were implemented.
The offer made ... along the lines of the Bain Recommendation of 11.3 per cent--could only be delivered with financial underwriting by central Government. It has not indicated that it is prepared to fund any negotiable increase at this time. We urge the Government to respond to this matter.
We hope the public will understand why we must remain resolute in our insistence that any increase in pay must deliver a more streamlined, focused and flexible service. We will not yield to unrealistic union wage demands nor capitulate in the face of bully-boy tactics designed to hold this country to ransom and put lives at risk.