FBU stitched up, claims Monk

A COUNCILLOR who is one of the negotiators trying to reach agreement with firefighters on their pay has accused the Government of "stitching up" the union.

By Graham Dines

A COUNCILLOR who is one of the negotiators trying to reach agreement with firefighters on their pay has accused the Government of "stitching up" the union.

Peter Monk, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, said he was "disgusted" at the manner in which the negotiations were brought to an end.

"Tory and Labour councillors who have no detailed knowledge of the dispute were brought in to pack the meeting and scupper the deal," claimed Mr Monk.

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"The Fire Brigades Union has a fair gripe. They were stitched up.

"The Lib Dems present on the negotiating body voted in favour of the deal, but all our hard work in trying to reach an agreement has come to an end through political spite."

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When union chiefs and local authority employers failed on Monday night to sign a proposal to pay the final two stages of the deal which ended the bitter strikes of 2002 and 2003, the FBU announced it would ballot members on strike action.

Firefighters would have received a 3.5% pay rise, outstanding since last November, and 4.2% from July 1.

The 4.2% pay rise was dependent on the Audit Commission verifying that changes to modernising the force, agreed as part of the overall deal, were being carried out, the employers said.

FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham said that fire services minister Nick Raynsford "has stepped in behind the scenes to wreck this deal.

"He does not want agreement on any terms, he only wants confrontation.

"He threatened to withdraw the £30 million transitional funding if a deal was reached.

"He has bullied these councillors into adopting a position many of them are disgusted with."

Steve Brinkley, Suffolk secretary of the FBU, added: "This is disgraceful behaviour.

"Our national negotiators have been working hard to achieve settlement for all our members and my understanding is that at the end of the last week agreement had been reached.

"Over the weekend it appears Minister Nick Raynsford threatened London councillors that if they voted for the settlement he would withhold funding.

"The meeting was then packed out with councillors, some who had never before attended these meetings and with little, if any, fire service knowledge, who then proceed to scupper the deal."

However, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the chairman of the Local Government Association - the employers' side of the talks - said "there was no truth in the allegations that the fire minister interfered in the talks."

However, a spokesman confirmed that the LGA had decided to take up all its seats at the meeting, rather than leaving it to the handful of negotiators who had been in talks with the union.

He said: "We were perfectly entitled to do what we did."

Those additional members, said Mr Monk, voted down the deal.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr John Prescott, said: "It is nonsense for the FBU to say that Government has intervened in any way at all.

"The Government has taken no part in these negotiations. We have always made it clear that we are prepared to provide transitional funding to support the agreement that resulted in modernisation."

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