Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck says a Government minister gave her the cold shoulder during a Parliamentary debate she had secured on the future of struggling high streets.
She put Brandon Lewis, under-secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on the spot during the debate, which made particular reference to the economic downturn’s impact on the King Street shopping thoroughfare in her own constituency.
The MP had made a fact-finding visit to the street to talk to traders before the Parliamentary debate and raised concerns at the high levels of business rates being charged.
In his response, Mr Lewis praised the “great work” being done to revive high streets nationwide and highlighted the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan, saying that if high streets were to survive they needed to be “more than simply places to shop”.
Mr Lewis said: “Many local councils are committed to the regeneration of their town centres and to longer-term programmes, such as the £100 million plan, South Shields 365, which aims to regenerate the area. The plan includes a new central library and digital media centre; improvements to the market square and the public realm; new integrated transport, retail, leisure and cinema facilities. If high streets are to remain at the heart of our communities, they need to be more than simply places to shop.”
But during a heated debate, the minister refused on three occasions to allow Mrs Lewell-Buck to interject with questions.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “On three or four occasions I asked the minister to give way because he was saying things that were simply not correct, but he refused to do so. The minister batted off criticisms and blamed everyone else for the Government’s failures.
“He made reference to local authorities now being able to discount business rates by 100 per cent. But the Local Government Association clearly states that most councils can’t use those powers because they are costly and bureaucratic.
“He also made reference to lifting planning restrictions to allow flexibility on our high streets, but that has merely allowed an increase in businesses such as pawnbrokers and taken away control from local councils.”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said she would be attempting to raise her concerns again at Department of Communities and Local Governments’ questions in Parliament on Monday.
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 June 2014