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Breakfast with Frost

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DAVID FROST: And now we come to the story which is dominating the news, the continuing strike by the firefighters. Over the coming days there will be fresh attempts to reopen the negotiations, we hope anyway, between the Fire Brigades Union and their employers. What hope is there that they can come up with an agreement which is acceptable to the Government. I am joined now from Epsom fire station in Surrey by a key member of the union's negotiating team, Mike Fordham. Good morning.

MIKE FORDHAM: Good morning Sir David.

DAVID FROST: Do you think it's possible there will be, there should be, conversations, negotiations this week while the strike continues? One paper says no, two say yes.

MIKE FORDHAM: Well we would certainly hope to be able to properly negotiate again with our employers. As you know, we did have an agreement in the early hours of Friday morning. That agreement would have meant that the strike would have been called off at nine o'clock on Friday and unfortunately the Government intervened to stop that happening.

DAVID FROST: But I mean that can't have come as any surprise, you didn't expect them to sign a blank cheque when they were told they'd got to put up the bridging money and nobody knew what it was.

MIKE FORDHAM: To be honest, Sir David, we did, yes, because we're aware that right through the night the local government negotiators, who are in themselves a very experienced team, were in permanent contact with government ministers. That agreement was actually being checked line by line with ministers throughout the night. And we are actually aware that just to change the words from 48 hours to as soon as possible, actually needed the approval of both John Prescott and Nick Raynsford, so it was a hell of a shock to us when we then find out that they've scuppered the deal.

DAVID FROST: And who scuppered the deal, do you think - in your opinion?

MIKE FORDHAM: Well it's, well it's purely Government and on now thinking back we can only assume that if both John Prescott and Nick Raynsford were being kept informed right through the night, somebody else in government got involved in those very early hours. And we did hear a phrase, put to us by journalists, that Gordon Brown was stomping around Whitehall. So maybe it was that, maybe it's the dark forces that have been referred to in Downing Street. But that's for the Government to sort out. We had an agreement with our employers, that agreement would have meant that the industrial action would not be going on now.

DAVID FROST: Given that the situation was in sort of a stasis early on Friday morning in the sense that the Government hadn't finally come back with their word, why did you decide to go ahead with the strike and not try and organise another day's negotiations?

MIKE FORDHAM: Because what we were told by the employers, at half past seven, is that they were unable to authorise the draft agreement that both sides had been working towards. We were told, once again, it's not for the first time, for the third time, that the Government had intervened and the Government had stated that they couldn't reach that agreement. There was therefore no, no hint to us that there was any purpose in continuing negotiations.

DAVID FROST: But at this particular moment, what would you be offering in the way of reforms? People have written that you haven't had any significant changes to working practices since the end of the last fire strike 25 years' ago. What big reforms and modernisations were you offering then on Friday morning?

MIKE FORDHAM: Well first of all, to address this question there's been no change - there's been incredible change over that 25 years. Incredible change. I mean the job that I left to become a union official 23 years ago, it's very different to the one that exists now. We have suggested very, very radical reforms to the fire service - on community fire safety, on how we provide fire cover to our communities, on issues such as equality and training within the fire service. Really big issues that would both improve public safety, improve the jobs for our members and will in fact save the UK economy a figure of something around 3.1 billion pound. That's what we're actually offering as our part of the deal. And those figures, by the way, are independently by Cap Gemini, Ernst & Young.

DAVID FROST: Well I thank you for that. We're going to come back to the studio now but thank you for joining us - how long will you be staying on the picket line today Mike?

MIKE FORDHAM: I'll be visiting other picket lines throughout the south east today.

DAVID FROST: Thanks very much.

MIKE FORDHAM: Thank you.


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