New era as longest fire dispute comes to an end

ESSEX fire chiefs have called for a “new era of understanding” after ending the longest-running industrial dispute in service history.

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members have voted two-to-one in favour of bringing four years of “very bitter” differences to an end.

The union said the agreement includes a pledge that numbers of full-time firefighters in Essex would be maintained until at least March 2015, unless Government funding is cut further.

But despite the settlement a senior FBU figure has warned frontline crews hold “serious concerns” about reductions of crews in Brentwood and Canvey Island.

Keith Handscomb, FBU executive member, said: “This has been a very bitter and the longest-running dispute in fire service history.

“Negotiators from both sides deserve credit for overcoming deeply held differences to negotiate the compromise terms needed to settle the dispute and to lay the foundations for rebuilding industrial relations.

“The challenges ahead are huge as the fire and rescue service faces the most severe cuts ever in central Government funding.

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“The union and frontline firefighters in Essex continue to hold serious concerns over the reduction of the whole-time fire crews at Canvey Island and Brentwood and as a consequence the speed and weight of 999 response to emergencies.

“The settlement also includes new terms and allowances underpinned by agreements on a detailed framework for improving industrial relations going forward.

“It’s early days but, bit by bit, relations are starting to get better and so it is now up to both sides to take this opportunity to work together in facing the considerable challenges that lie ahead.”

David Johnson, chief fire officer at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The service will face significant financial challenges over the next couple of years and it is important for us all to focus our energies on the future and learn to work together once again to achieve the best possible outcome for Essex.

“We still have to face the financial realities of the final two years of the Government’s comprehensive spending review. Prudent financial management has enabled us to offer all Essex firefighters job security come what may, and we have a fire authority mandate to maintain the same number of fire stations and fire appliances with the financial resources to support those guarantees.

“Clearly having faced the acrimony of a four-year dispute, it will take time to rebuild trust.

“But with mutual respect and co-operation, I am hopeful that we can look forward to a new era in terms of trade union relationships built on an understanding that there will continue to be differences and compromise will be needed on both sides.”