16 January 2004
The government put the final seal on the long-running fire dispute this week with the publication of the Fire and Rescue Services Bill, the first major legislation to reform the service in 50 years.
The Bill places a new duty on the Fire Service to promote fire safety to try to reduce the number of fire-related deaths. It will introduce controversial risk management plans and a national framework to ensure uniformity across the service, which will be controlled by the secretary of state.
Unsurprisingly, given the bitter dispute last year over pay and modernisation, the Fire Brigades Union immediately condemned the Bill. FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist described it as 'window-dressing for cuts' and urged the government to pilot some of the reforms. 'A listening government would try out new ideas and not rush into them without knowing whether they will work or not,' he said.
The union objects to new powers that will allow the secretary of state to direct procurement and reserve powers that can force fire services to work together regionally and with other local stations. The FBU claims the latter will lead to cuts in staff and stations.
The Bill will also enshrine moves to dismantle the current pay and conditions negotiating bodies. Again, it holds reserve powers for the government to force a solution.
'The Bill will help shift the focus of the service towards a more preventative and risk-based approach,' said fire and rescue services minister Nick Raynsford.