I have received a lot of correspondence recently about the industrial action that is due to take place over the weekend by the Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU), and, as such, I wanted to lay out my position.
Over the course of the past four years, fire fighters across the UK, but particularly in London, have been on the receiving end of unrelenting attacks by the Government and by the Mayor of London. Given the level of risk these fabulous people take on a daily basis to keep us all safe, this is totally unacceptable and, in my opinion, an ideological attack by the Government and the Mayor on one of the few great bastions of trade unionism that we have left in our country.
Rest assured, I am in full support of the FBU’s actions and find the Government’s attempts to change firefighters’ terms and conditions for the worse without proper consultation or co-operation with firefighters and the FBU completely unacceptable. The wider narrative the Government uses to divide and conquer us all and tear apart unions even more than they were under previous Governments is dreadful, too, and I do all I can in my daily work to pull apart the lies that Westminster politicians utter and to stand up for the real people who call London their home.
It is awful that the Fire Minister has failed to provide a new deal that is acceptable to the FBU, especially after the union called off a previous round of strikes in good faith, hoping that the Fire Minister would negotiate with the FBU on behalf of their members. It is clear now that the Union and their members feel that the only way in which they can make their voices heard is through taking strike action and I am in full support of this if that is what union members have voted for. The proposal at the heart of the dispute – that firefighters should work until they are sixty or face a reduced pension if they are forced to retire early – is a cruel assault on those who put their lives at risk to protect the public.
The Labour Group here at City Hall has written to Mayor Boris Johnson to ask him to use his influence to persuade the Government to sit down with the FBU and reach an agreed settlement. I have copied a letter below that I sent to journalists recently, which further lays out my position.
Finally, I send a message of solidarity to all firefighters taking action over the weekend. Stay strong!
Copy of letter sent to London media:
The London Fire Brigade’s strike this week will have many people concerned. The Government’s proposal at the heart of the dispute is that firefighters should work until they are sixty or see their pension cut. This is no way to treat the people we rely on to spend their lives running into harm’s way to protect the public. The Government must realise the position they are forcing firefighters into, especially given the fact that their own review showed that two-thirds of firefighters will have to retire because of ill health by the time they reach the current retirement age of fifty-five.
Despite the Fire Brigade’s Union negotiating in good faith, the Government seems unwilling to listen and has not made a new offer to firefighters, even though they indicated they would. It is deeply disappointing that we have got to this position, but, given the Government’s unhelpful and steadfast position, I fully respect the rights of the members of the Fire Brigade’s Union to take industrial action, and just hope that the Government listen and are willing to accept the deep flaws of the current proposals, and get back round the negotiating table so that this matter can be resolved amicably for all parties.
Jennette Arnold OBE AM
Today marked the day that Boris’ reckless fire stations closures and budget cuts to London’s Fire Service came into effect.
I was humbled to join local residents and campaigners at Clerkenwell Fire Station to oppose the Mayor’s cuts and reflect upon the impact that these closures will have on the safety of Londoners and on the livelihoods of many firemen and women who have lost their jobs.
Several protests took place across London, and I joined firefighters and many others at Camberwell Fire Station at 8.30am to continue my support of the campaign against Boris’ cuts, which took effect from 9am, meaning that, Londonwide, there are now 10 fewer fire stations, 14 fewer fire engines and 552 fewer firefighters than yesterday.
The full list of stations axed includes Clerkenwell and Kingsland in my constituency, as well as Belsize, Bow, Downham, Knightsbridge, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich, as well as the removal of fire engines from Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone in my constituency and Hayes, Peckham and Whitechapel.
The cuts follow a lengthy campaign to stop the Mayor’s plans which originally included over 18 fire stations and 32 fire engines. The cuts are being made to fund Boris Johnson’s penny a day cut to his share of the council tax for each household. Last year the Mayor was presented with fully-costed proposals to maintain all fire services across London, but he chose to ignore this and ignore Londoners.
Today’s demonstration, which saw hundreds of people out on the streets in protest, shows the strength of feeling amongst the local community against these cuts.
What worries me most is that Boris Johnson’s decision to close these stations and axe the fire engines and firefighters will lead to significantly increased response times to incidents across London. In some areas it will now take nearly two minutes longer for a fire engine to arrive on scene and, as we know, every second counts to save property and to save lives.
I want to pay tribute and to say a personal thank you to the firefighters who are now unemployed, despite putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to keep Londoners safe and to save Londoners’ lives. They truly are heroes and deserve to be applauded for their dedication and professionalism. It is devastating for them, their families and for local residents that many brave firemen and women have now lost their jobs.
Regrettably, Boris has not listened to local residents and is forcing these cuts through. In response to his consultation, an overwhelming 94% of Londoners said they do not support his plans, yet he went ahead with them anyway. It is also sad that he cannot swallow his pride and come down to say a personal thank you to the firefighters that have served London so well for such a long time. He should be thoroughly ashamed and, more importantly, held to account come 2016 for these reckless closures that will put Londoners’ safety at risk, including many of my constituents in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.
Solidarity to all firefighters across London. You truly are the unsung heroes of our city.