National e-bulletin – 28 July 2015

National Audit Office640_nationa-audit-office

The RFU were invited to speak to the National Audit Office (NAO) earlier this month to discuss the following topics.

  • The financial challenges facing the sector as a whole.
  • Key issues for retained firefighters today.
  • How well DCLG understands the role of retained firefighters and how it relates to the RFU.
  • The sustainability of the retained duty workforce.
  • Prospects for introduction of retained firefighters in areas which have exclusively been whole time.

The NAO is an independent organisation that has taken on some of the work previously undertaken by the Audit Commission. The piece of work being undertaken by the NAO will look into the overall impact of funding reform of Fire and Rescue Authorities, a report will be published later this year which will include an overall conclusion as to whether services are providing value for money, the report will also make appropriate recommendations which will be put before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

We welcomed the opportunity to speak to the NAO and will be interested to read the finished report later in the year. As the only organisation that truly represents the sole interests  of Retained/On-Call Firefighters, we believe we provided the NAO with a unique perspective as to how the Fire & Rescue Service could be changed to benefit the public and our members while still providing excellent value for money.

Fire Fitness Joint Working Group

As previously reported, the Joint Working Group (JWP) was set up by the then Fire Minister (Penny Mordaunt MP), to produce a best practice guide to assist Fire & Rescue Authorities in maintaining a fit and healthy workforce. This was in direct response to the amendment to the National Framework which incorporated for the first time ‘firefighter fitness’.

The JWG met again on 14 July 2015 where another presentation was given from a representative from the FireFit Group looking to justify two different fitness standards within the service and the use of ‘V02max’ as a measurement of fitness.

Little seems to have progressed since the group met in March and we are not hopeful that a retained-friendly resolution will be forthcoming. We are and have always been, of the opinion that the current proposals, will be detrimental to RDS staff and are not proportionate to the expectations of the job.

The RFU undertook its own piece of research this year that highlight that a number of FRS have inferior training facilities available to Retained staff compared to their Wholetime colleagues. Also, while the vast majority were happy to pay Wholetime staff to undertake fitness training, only two claimed that they were willing to provide the same opportunity for their Retained staff.

So much for equality within the Fire Service!!

We will keep you updated on developments within the JWG later in the year.

North Yorkshire Proposals

There have been some interesting proposals put forward by North Yorkshire Fire Authority this month, which could have a positive impact on Retained staff within the county.

Four of the six fire stations identified in the North Yorkshire consultation document have the capacity to expand the use of its Retained staff. The proposed changes are due to falling demand and the fact that these stations already have Retained units operating from their locations.

The RFU will provide a formal response to the consultation process and will be keeping a close eye on the outcome as it could demonstrate what could be achieved across similar areas in other FRS across the UK.

Trade Union Bill

In their election manifesto, the Government committed to reforming trade union laws. Ministers have now introduced the Trade Union Bill which supports this commitment and alongside this have launched three public consultations. The three separate consultations relate to tackling intimidation of non-striking workers, ballot thresholds in important public services and finally, reforming regulations regarding hiring agency staff during strike action.

While we will provide our response to the consultation in good time, we do welcome the contents within the consultation document relating to tackling intimidation of non-striking workers, as this continues to be a problem, despite local FRS taking a more robust stance against such behaviour.

A summary of the areas included within the consultations is listed below.

Picketing and Protests

  • The Government is reforming and modernising the rules relating to picketing and associated protests to ensure they cover social media, to make sure they apply to protests linked to pickets, and to make clearer rights and remedies for non-striking workers, the public and businesses as well as picketers.
  • The Trade Union Bill makes key aspects of the Code of Practice on Picketing legally binding. The Government seeks evidence on whether there are further requirements that should be legally enforceable.
  • It also seeks views on how to improve transparency and accountability for picketing and associated protests – where so-called ‘leverage’ tactics have sometimes been used. This includes a requirement to publish a plan of intended action, and an annual report to the Certification Officer of picketing and associated protest activity.
  • A key aim is to ensure that workers are better protected from intimidation. This consultation welcomes further evidence of intimidatory behaviour experienced during picketing and protests linked to industrial disputes. It seeks views on gaps and weaknesses in the framework governing these activities and how they can be remedied, including the case for a new criminal offence of intimidation on the picket line.

Ballot Thresholds

The Government is introducing a new 50% participation threshold to all trade union ballots for industrial action.

  • The Government is also introducing a new 40% important public services threshold, meaning ballots in those sectors will need the support of at least 40% of those entitled to vote.
  • The new 40% threshold will apply to six sectors: fire, health, education, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning. This consultation seeks evidence on who within those sectors should be subject to that threshold.

Staffordshire Proposals

Back in February of this year, Staffordshire FRS published proposals to change the way it delivered its service to find additional savings of £1.75million, these proposals formed part of a 12-week consultation exercise.

Within the consultation document the service proposed to make the unprecedented move to remove all Retained Duty System (RDS) posts opting for a brigade totally reliant on Wholetime staff from a fewer number of Fire Stations (reduced from 33 to 15) and fewer frontline appliances (reduced from 42 to 15). Potentially this would mean the loss of almost 500 Retained Firefighter jobs.

We formulated and submitted our written response (the FBU chose not to make a formal written submission) outlining our concerns regarding the proposals and identified other ways of making the necessary savings.

The eventual outcome agreed by the Fire Authority was very different to the original proposals. We can confirm that no RDS staff jobs will be lost but there will be reductions in the Wholetime establishment.

This demonstrates what can be achieved through properly evidenced research, lobbying of elected members and a robust alternative proposal.