JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, next week
the firemen go on strike.... for forty eight hours. Then there will be
another one... again for forty eight hours. Then another four ... of eight
A frightening prospect.
Could it have been avoided? CAN it be avoided... even at this late stage?
It's about money of course. They want an extra forty per cent. They
have been offered four per cent. Now their pay is to be reviewed by an
independent commission chaired by Sir George Bain. With me is the minister
responsible for the Fire Service Nick Raynsford and the leader of the Fire
Brigades Union Andy Gilchrist.
Mr Gilchrist, why not
wait for the review to report?
ANDY GILCHRIST: Well, the review is not
actually a review into pay at all. It's a very wide ranging review and
we question seriously the independence of it.
HUMPHRYS: Sir George Bain is an
eminently independent man. Everybody believes that.
GILCHRIST: Our issue is not about
the eminence of Sir George Bain. The fact is, this is not an independent
inquiry. The Prime Minister, indeed the Deputy Prime Minister, have backed
up the fact that even if Sir George Bain were to find that we were right
in claiming forty per cent, that in fact he would not be allowed to award
HUMPHRYS: Nonetheless, you'd have
a stronger moral case for taking action wouldn't you, if you had an independent
review saying yes, they ought to get forty per cent, that would be a pretty
powerful argument for you, wouldn't it?
GILCHRIST: Well there is no such
thing at the moment as an independent review of pay. What there is, is
a rather farcical wide-ranging review into the Fire Service.
HUMPHRYS Why is that farcical,
why is it farcical on a wide-ranging review?
GILCHRIST: It's rather repetitive
of much of the work that's going on currently, which I have to say the
Fire Brigades Union is not only involved in but is leading on. Now, I
don't know how you re-invent the United Kingdom Fire Service in a little
under six weeks, but that seems to be the task that this team of people
have set themselves.
HUMPHRYS; But you're refusing even
to talk to them, even to get involved in the review. And here you're planning
all these strikes in which people might very well, almost certainly, will
die. And yet you're refusing to sit down and talk to an independent review.
GILCHRIST; We have a very successful
history inside of the Fire Service at the National Joint Council, some
forty odd years of resolving issues of pay and conditions of service in
an amicable and indeed negotiated way. That actually was blocked by the
government earlier in the summer, when the employers were prepared at that
stage anyway, to make us an offer of twenty-five thousand pounds a year.
The government stepped in and said they weren't allowed to do that and
then they embarked on this rather dangerous distraction, called the Independent
HUMPHRYS Let me just deal with
that, because I saw the Minister shaking his head at that, Mr Raynsford
, you were shaking your head, you say you didn't block it.
NICK RAYNSFORD: Yes, there's no truth in that whatsoever,
and that's been confirmed not just by us, but by Sir Jeremy Beecham who
is the Chairman of the Local Government Association, who made it quite
clear that the only discussions that the employers had with government
on this matter were about the extent to which government would fund any
settlement that was agreed. It's for the employers to reach a decision.
We made it clear that if they went beyond the four per cent they would
have to fund that, but it was their decision.
HUMPHRYS: But why should government,
central government, get involved in this at all. It ought to be an issue
for the Local Authorities didn't it?
RAYNSFORD: We didn't get involved until
the point on the 2nd of September when negotiations between the Fire Brigades
Union and the employers broke down. It was at that point, because we were
worried about the risk of a strike, that we moved very quickly indeed to
set up the Independent Review. It is a truly independent review. No-one,
apart from the FBU is doubting the integrity and the independence of Sir
George Bain, and it will report before Christmas.
HUMPHRYS: But, isn't it a bit disingenuous
to say that government is not getting involved at all. The fact is, if
the Fire Brigades Union got their forty per cent or anything close to their
forty per cent it would blow apart the government's entire economic plans
I mean Gordon Brown would be in deep trouble, the Government would be
in deep trouble. The knock-on effect would be colossal. You simply cannot
allow that to happen can you?
RAYNSFORD: Well, I think that almost all
commentators do regard the forty per cent as over the top, but it's going
to be a question for Sir George Bain to look at the case.
HUMPHRYS; Except that you are saying,
he won't, even if he recommends, you won't accept his recommendation, that's
what Mr Gilchrist is saying.
RAYNSFORD: No John, I've said on many,
many occasions, and I repeat it again this morning, we've said that we
will look very seriously, very carefully indeed at any recommendation that
comes for the Bain review. I can't give a commitment in advance that we
will implement whatever they say, because that would be signing a blank
cheque, and no government will do that and I wouldn't actually expect Andy
Gilchrist to say that he would accept any recommendation that the Bain
review might come up with, but we will look very carefully, very sympathetically
at any recommendation that comes from Bain.
HUMPHRYS: Well, there we are Mr
Gilchrist. They will look at it very carefully, very sympathetically, and
yet you're saying we're not even prepared to wait for that, even until
Christmas. We're going to go ahead and do it now, and put people's lives
GILCHRIST: No, we're not, because
we are going to look at it seriously what there isn't there and I'm glad
that Mr Raynsford has confirmed it, there's no commitment to fund it necessarily.
HUMPHRYS Well he said we will look
at very sympathetically at it.
GILCHRIST: Our issue at the moment
is that for forty odd years we've had a very successful, backed up by the
industrial peace that people experienced, mechanism for resoling issues
of pay and conditions of service, and what we're actually asking here,
and there's much talk about the forty per cent, is that firefighters and
control staff who work forty-two hours a week, actually take home or should
take home eight pounds fifty an hour. Now I don't think that's unreasonable
HUMPHRYS: Well, what you're asking
for is a forty per cent increase, and very few people find that realistic.
It is a huge increase - forty per cent when people are getting four, five,
six per cent if they're very, very lucky indeed and inflation is half that.
GILCHRIST: I don't share your analysis
that people don't see it as realistic or reasonable.
HUMPHRYS: Have you read the newspapers
GILCHRIST: Well, the newspapers
are one thing. Having spent about six or eight months around this country
talking, not only to firefighters, but many members of the public, they
are extremely supportive of what our claim is about. They understand the
job they do, what our members do, and they're intent on supporting us throughout
this dispute. We want the ability to sit down with our Fire Service employers,
or if the government are intent on hijacking this dispute in its way, we'll
sit down with them, and seek to work out a negotiated settlement on pay.
HUMPHRYS; Yes, but I mean here
is the government, and I'm going back to it, because to many people it
will be deeply, deeply surprising that on an issue literally, quite literally
of life and death, the government has said, we will set up - we have set
up this independent review led by a man, Sir George Bain, whom I don't
think even you would describe as not being independent. His record says
that he is entirely independent and always has been, and he is prepared
to chair this review which may come up with something that you want, it
may not, but it is independent. And here you are saying, no we're not
interested in that, we want our forty per cent and if we don't get it we're
going to go on strike and we're going to put people's lives at risk. I
mean that sounds an extraordinary thing to do.
GILCHRIST No, I don't think it's
extraordinary at all. For decades firefighters have been poorly paid.
We're intent on resolving that this year. We were very serious about constructively
moving through the negotiating process. That was effectively hijacked.
I do not share your view that this is an independent inquiry, and the government
pronouncements from indeed the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister
no less have actually made it quite clear that they are not prepared to
meet the FBU's claim.....
HUMPHRYS: Even if.....the minister.....
GILCHRIST: He said he'd seriously
HUMPHRYS; Well, they can't say
more than that in fairness can they. You expect the government to say okay
we'll give them forty per cent. Then we'll have to give the teachers thirty
per cent, and we'll have to give somebody else twenty-five.....
GILCHRIST: We've provided enough
documentary evidence through independent research to make the case that
professional firefighters deserve professional pay. Now our Fire Service
employers have had that for months and then we have this dangerous distraction
of a so-called independent review into I have to say, the future of the
HUMPHRYS: Do you accept the point
that I have been making throughout this, the point that Ministers made
in the past, that people will die as a result of your actions.
GILCHRIST: I'm certainly clear
that if the government will not speak to the Fire Brigades Union and are
intent on putting into place what they call their alternative Fire Service
arrangements, then certainly people's lives will be put at risk. That's
why I've said...
HUMPHRYS: And you're prepared to
go ahead with it.
GILCHRIST: That's why I said on
Friday that rather than shout across London in the style that the Deputy
Prime Minister did, that actually what he ought to do, is pick up the phone
and speak to the Fire Brigades Union, or allow fire service employers to
independently negotiate with the Fire Brigade Union.
HUMPHRYS: But you are prepared, let me
just make this very clear because this is what it comes down to in the
end, you are prepared to see, risk people dying if you don't get your claim
GILCHRIST: I am not...what I am
HUMPHRYS: That's a yes or no really,
GILCHRIST: No, it's not a yes or
no at all. The situation is clear. We are no longer prepared to have our
commitment to the safety of the public blackmail us into the issue of poor
pay. What we want to do is to sit down, independently, with our Fire Service
employers, or indeed as I've said, we are quite prepared to sit down with
the appropriate people in government and resolve this in the next eight
HUMPHRYS: So you are prepared to
talk to anybody except an independent review, well you don't accept it's
GILCHRIST: It's not independent
and quite frankly it's an irrelevant distraction..
HUMPHRYS: Alright, well, in that
case, Minister, they won't meet the independent review, that's that. They
will however, talk to John Prescott, they'll talk to the local authorities,
shouldn't that be happening, even as we speak?
RAYNSFORD: Well we got to the present position
when the union and the employers got to the end of the road in terms of
negotiations on 2nd September, failed to reach agreement and clearly there
was a prospect of a strike. Now, that's situation, in that situation, we
set up the independent review and we think this is the right way to resolve
HUMPHRYS: But since they won't
meet..since they have no confidence in the independent review and Mr Gilchrist
has told us why, why do you not say, alright, we've got to stop this strike
at all cost. I mean not at forty per cent maybe, but at least let us talk
to them, so John Prescott should sit down, you should sit down and talk
with them and say let's try and find a way around this. Why can't you do
RAYNSFORD: Because we have a group of three
people, independent people, looking at all the evidence, assessing it,
to come up with a reasoned judgement as to what is an appropriate level
of pay, for fire fighters and other measures as well, how the service can
HUMPHRYS: Let's deal with the reality,
should you not go to any lengths now. I mean...I know it sounds melodramatic
and all that, but it's language that you yourself have used, that people
will die as a result of this dispute. Surely you should take any steps,
any sensible steps, any possible steps to stop it happening.
RAYNSFORD: We believe we have and that
the review is the way forward.
HUMPHRYS: But they don't.
RAYNSFORD: What you're asking us to do
John, will be to double-guess the review by sitting down and having separate
HUMPHRYS: Well abandon the review,
if they won't talk to you, if they won't take any notice of the review
then abandon it and do something else.
RAYNSFORD: I think that's a very very foolish
proposal because if you have a serious review, with imminent people, experienced
people, already well into their work, they've taken evidence, the last
day for evidence closed last Friday. They will be moving forward over the
next few weeks, to their recommendations, and surely it isn't too much
to ask for the Fire Brigades Union to suspend any action until we get the
result of that serious analysis of pay and conditions within the Fire Service.
HUMPHRYS: You've said, as I say,
that people will die as a result of this dispute. Do you believe that the
Undergrounds and the Underground systems and the railways should close,
we've already heard Aslef saying that they will walk out if they are not
satisfied, if their members are not satisfied that they are going to be
entirely safe and the public will be safe. Is there an argument for saying
the Underground, or large sections of the Underground and the railways
should simply not run during this dispute.
RAYNSFORD: This is a matter for the Health
and Safety Executive, who we understand have issued guidance that it is
not unsafe to operate the rail network and that apart from a number of
deep stations, which probably will have to be closed on the London Underground,
perhaps nineteen but otherwise the London Underground is perfectly safe
HUMPHRYS: And if there is an accident,
if there is a crash.
RAYNSFORD: Well that is the judgement of
the Health and Safety Executive and clearly London Underground and the
train operating companies have got to look very carefully at that and reach
HUMPHRYS: But your view, if they
were to decide that they should close, they would have your support.
RAYNSFORD: It's their judgement, based
on the advice they get and we obviously would look very closely at any
decision that they reach but we see no reason at the moment from what we've
heard, for this to happen.
HUMPHRYS: One of the things that
puzzles people a lot is all this talk about these ancient Green Goddesses.
The things that only do about forty miles an hour or whatever it is and
they are fifty years' old and yet during the strike, if it happens, we
will have lots of fancy new fire engines sitting in fire stations. Why
cannot the Army, I know they are not trained in them, but it wouldn't take
very long to give them basic rudimentary instruction, why can't the Army,
the soldiers who are going to use the Green Goddesses, use modern equipment.
RAYNSFORD: I think there's three reasons
for that. Firstly, they are much more sophisticated, we..
HUMPHRYS: You'd have to train them,
I acknowledged that.
RAYNSFORD: ...and that takes time and we
haven't had very much time.
HUMPHRYS: But you could start now
RAYNSFORD: We have now got trained military
personnel ready to operate the Green Goddesses, we could not have done
that if you are talking about the more sophisticated modern kit. Secondly,
those appliances are mostly in fire stations and they will almost certainly
be picketed if the FBU go ahead with their strike action. It would unnecessarily
draw the Army into an industrial dispute if they had to cross picket lines.
HUMPHRYS: Isn't that better than
RAYNSFORD: Well I think it could inflame
the situation, we have no wish to do that. We want to find an amicable
and sensible way through this that does protect the public's interests
to the best of our ability and that's why we are arranging to deploy military
personnel on Green Goddesses, we will also be running safety campaigns
to advise the public of what measures need to be taken to minimise the
risk of fire.
HUMPHRYS: But I'm trying to imagine
and you must surely yourself have imagined this, somebody's house is on
fire, or whatever it may be and there's a fire station a hundred yards
away with a perfectly good fire engine sitting in it and the soldiers can't
get there in their ancient old Green Goddess so their house burns down
or somebody gets killed, you must have thought that. Even if it upsets
the Fire Brigades Union, even if you cross a picket line, it's worth doing.
RAYNSFORD: Well we are extremely worried
about the situation because as I've said on many occasions and as Andy
Gilchrist has also recognised, there is a risk that people's lives will
be lost unnecessarily, that's why we say the Fire Brigades Union should
now be calling off this unnecessary strike, should be waiting for the conclusions
of the Bain Review and then should sit down to discuss with the employers,
the Local Authorities, the implementation of recommendations that come
from the Bain Review.
HUMPHRYS: Very quick thought, the
police cannot go on strike, for very obvious reasons, should you change
the law so that fire officers, fire fighters cannot go on strike as well?
RAYNSFORD: We have no plans to do so..
HUMPHRYS: Shouldn't you?
RAYNSFORD: ...but it is of course interesting
when comparisons are made between the levels of pay that apply in different
services, that that element isn't taken into account.
HUMPHRYS: Are you prepared to consider
introducing legislation that would make fire fighters' strikes illegal?
RAYNSFORD: Not at the present time because
we hope that commonsense will prevail, the fire fighters will not go on
HUMPHRYS: Not at the present time
but you might at some stage in the future.
RAYNSFORD: We have no plans to do so.
HUMPHRYS: A final thought from
you Mr Gilchrist. You are actually prepared to go ahead for a strike, for
a forty per cent increase in pay that could put people's lives at risk,
I mean that's what it comes down to isn't it.
GILCHRIST: We have always expressed
a view that this was entirely avoidable and when the government reflects
it might regret where we are. We could have negotiated a position on pay
with our employers and then jointly, with our employers, could have come
to the government and made the argument for funding. That's the right way
to resolve this issue, it would have been, however the government involvement
made that impossible.
HUMPHRYS: Gentlemen, thank you
both very much indeed.
GILCHRIST: Thank you John.
RAYNSFORD: Thank you.