Councils set battle lines over the cost of firefighters strike

10 Oct 02
A row over which section of government will pick up the tab for the impending firefighters' strike is looming, with councils fearing that they could again be left to bear the costs.

11 October 2002

According to sources, discussions between employers and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are ongoing.

In previous industrial disputes the Ministry of Defence has passed on the cost of running its 'Green Goddesses' (yellow in Northern Ireland) to fire authorities. There are also the costs of police escorts used to direct military personnel to fire sites, again borne by councils.

Local authority leaders also fear that with the government apparently gearing up for military action in Iraq, ministers are more likely to take the side of the MoD.

The Local Government Association was this week drafting a letter to fire minister Nick Raynsford seeking urgent clarification. But a spokesman for the ODPM told Public Finance that the MoD will 'fully recover its costs' while it was 'undecided' who will bear the final cost.

Local authorities north of the border were also gearing up for confrontation this week, this time with the independent review into the fire dispute.

Scottish council leaders said they would fight 'tooth and nail' any measure to transfer control of fire services to an independent quango. The review, headed by Professor Sir George Bain, has made no such indication but leaders fear that its investigation into the Fire Service's organisation may opt for major structural change.

'The fire service must remain under the control of democratically elected members,' said Pat Watters, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The Fire Brigades Union will announce the first strike dates on October 18, the same day as its ballot over a 39% pay increase closes.


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