North East Labour Politicians support Firefighters
North East Labour politicans supported firefighters in their fight for a fair outcome to the long running pensions dispute during the debate in the House of Commons on Monday 15th December. A number of North East politicains were called to speak including Dave Anderson (MP for Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (MP for Wansbeck), others wished to speak including Grahame Morris, below is the speech Grahame wanted to make on our behalf however was not called by the Speaker of the House;
As a member of the FBU Parliamentary Group I wanted to make a contribution during Monday’s Firefighters Pension debate but was not called by the Speaker.
These are the comments I wanted to make as part of the debate
I am proud to stand here today in defence of our fire and rescue service, and to thank all firefighters for what they do for our communities.
As we know all too well, they are often the difference between life and death in emergency situations.
No one wants industrial action, but I have had no hesitation in joining firefighters in my constituency on picket lines as they fight for a fair pension settlement and to safeguard public and firefighter safety.
There had been signs of optimism, especially when the Fire Minster, (Hon. Mem. For Portsmouth North) wrote to all firefighters in August promising:
“My goal is clear to get the best deal possible for firefighters and resolve this dispute.”
However, since taking up her new role in July, the offer on the table is exactly the same as that of her predecessor, this will result in firefighters paying more, receiving less, and will risk public and firefighters safety.
We are here today Mr Speaker because This Government has continuously refused to deal fairly with our firefighters.
In devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, a fair deal has been negotiated between firefighters and the governments in those parts of the UK.
In Scotland and Wales it has been agreed that pensions will be reduced by 9% with the pension age being 55 years. Contrast that in England, where this government wants firefighter’s pensions reduced by 21.8% nearly a quarter Mr Speaker, and increase the retirement age to 60yo.
Yet even the government’s own evidence on the physical demands of firefighting state this will not work.
Their own report highlights over 60% of firefighters aged 55-60 would be unlikely to meet the fitness standard used by most fire services and would therefore be unlikely to be able to achieve the new normal pension age of 60.
Not only are the government’s proposals ill-thought out and unworkable because of the unachievable levels of fitness firefighters are expected to maintain, but they directly discriminate against female firefighters.
The same report shows that all female firefighters will not meet the fitness standards and therefore be effectively drummed out of their job.
Only Elite Women Athletes will have the remotest chance of meeting these requirements.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have recognised this, why not the bench opposite?
This is a recipe for a diminished service, and threat to public safety. If firefighters are unable to achieve the required fitness standards what will happen?
They cannot be re-deployed – only 16 non-operational roles were available across the whole of England in 2012.
It will mean firefighters are forced to leave the service without a fair pension, after a career of service to their community.
On top of all of this firefighters are being asked to do more with less.
Figures published this year by DCLG in my own area, where we have seen multimillion-pound cuts, show brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest increases in fire call outs. My own fire service, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw the second highest rise in call-out figures. Call outs increased by 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388.
Mr Speaker, more than 300 full-time firefighters roles have been lost in the North-East in the last four years. Durham and Darlington FRS has lost 49 firefighters. Even with the hiring of more backroom staff and some ‘on-call’ roles it means my local service is down 4.1% from 2010 figures and this is expected to double.
It is even worse for other North-East brigades – Tyne and Wear FRS has been reduced by 18.4%.
In fact recent plans put forward by my local brigade proposes training firefighters to deal with medical emergencies, including heart attacks, bleeding, breathing difficulties, trauma and strokes. Firefighters also have to deal with increased flooding and other risks, including helping in other parts of the country as we saw in the West Country and the South East of England
Yet to meet cuts imposed centrally, the same plan has local fire stations being staffed part-time and overall staff reductions.
This means the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was and will only get worse.
It means people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.
Mr Speaker I expect the Tories to reject today’s motion, it is clear that the members opposite (with a few notable exceptions) support a race to the bottom in terms of wages, conditions and pensions across the public sector.
However, the Liberal Democrats declare they are different to the Tories. The number of engineered disagreements with their Coalition partner continue to rise on a daily basis as we approach the election campaign and they seek to find a degree of separation from a toxic legacy.
Well, today is an opportunity to provide more than warm words.
Today they can show the British People that on issues such as we are discussing in this debate, they are willing to stand and be counted, literally, when they walk through the lobby to vote to support this nations firefighters.
The success or failure of this motion will largely depend on the Liberal Democrats. I implore you to show that your disagreement with the Government is genuine and have the principle to stand up on the side of real working people and support our firefighters so they can achieve a fair pension settlement as well as safeguarding the health and safety of all of us and firefighters themselves.