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 Breakfast with Frost
Andy Gilchrist, general secretary, FBU
Andy Gilchrist, general secretary, FBU

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well it did look as if the firefighters were going to find a peaceful solution to their demands for a 40 per cent pay rise, but now it appears the talking is over - or it appeared that way a day or two ago. Union leaders are saying they won't be going to the talks that the arbitration service, Acas, planned for next week, because they say the employer's latest offer is unacceptable, and they've announced a new series of strikes - the first in just nine days time, January 21. And I'm joined now by the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Andy Gilchrist. Good morning.

ANDY GILCHRIST: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Now there's been some potentially exciting developments since you and your colleagues made that statement about how it seemed pointless to go to Acas on Tuesday. One of them, of course, was Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, saying that no offer had been tabled, it was - you were presented with one I think you said on Thursday night - but no offer had been tabled by the employers, there was plenty of room for negotiation, and there was no question of compulsory redundancy. And then Nick Raynsford, on behalf of the government, said it could be a three year deal, provided it was paid for out of modernisation savings, and people are talking of a three year deal today, 16 per cent or, maybe, according to Mr Raynsford, he didn't rule out a bit more than that. Now, given, given those two developments, don't you know think it would be a good idea at least to pop into Acas on Tuesday to find out what they're saying.

ANDY GILCHRIST: Well I think the problem is, is we've had yet more confusion heaped upon confusion in this dispute. I attended a meeting with senior representatives of the employers side Thursday evening and the details of the proposals which I'm told they're discussing in fact tomorrow were entirely unacceptable, really on the basis that there is a non-negotiable element to them. The union is expected to unconditionally, unreservedly commit are the exact words, ourselves to the Bain Report, which we have serious professional concerns about. Now that's not a process of negotiation, that, that's about sort of dictation from the employer's side -

DAVID FROST: Yes but this is different what they've been saying, I don't know whether Sir Jeremy Beecham, probably Nick Raynsford was not at that meeting on Thursday night but given, don't you feel, given that glimmer of hope that there might be, and clearly there's room for negotiation for instance about a third year, because a third year has not been negotiated, and they're prepared to talk about it, wouldn't it be refreshing if you would just tell us this morning that in order to try and prevent another strike you will talk to them on Tuesday?

ANDY GILCHRIST: Well what we said to the representatives of the employers we saw Thursday was simply this, if on Monday they confirm the details of the proposals they were telling us at that time, then there would be little point in us turning up at Acas. If the situation is different, then somebody with authority and a singular message from the employers needs to tell us that and then we'll look at that very seriously. No firefighter wants to be on strike but we can't go into a process which says sit down here, four per cent and by the way accept everything in our agenda.

DAVID FROST: Right, so that in fact the talks with Acas on Tuesday could be saved depending on what the employers have to say on Monday after their, as you say, their reportedly in all the papers, meeting.

ANDY GILCHRIST: Well one of the problems we have is that from time to time we have a government which always claims not to be interfering, and of course it's been proved to have been interfering, and we have mixed messages coming out from the employers side. Now seriously, if the employers meet on Monday and confirm what we were told last Thursday, then there is no point, because it is not about negotiation, it is about capitulation and the decimation of the fire service.

DAVID FROST: But if they say there is room for negotiation and we're prepared to put forward a three year deal so the percentage goes up and so there's something clearly for negotiation and it's not entirely take it or leave it, in that situation you would be open to going back on Tuesday?

ANDY GILCHRIST: The situation is we've got a claim for some eight pounds 50 an hour for operational firefighters who are prepared to risk their lives -

DAVID FROST: Take home pay?

ANDY GILCHRIST: Take home pay. We want to negotiate with the fire service employers around the basis of a serious offer, alongside of our claim. What we're not prepared to do is go into a process which says you unreservedly commit yourselves to our entire agenda. If I were to be saying that I can imagine what the newspapers and broadcasters would be saying about my attitude.

DAVID FROST: And obviously there will always be a great haggle over the word modernisation and so on, but you are willing to look at modernisation, obviously you must be?

ANDY GILCHRIST: If you believe what's being said about modernisation, you'd think we were talking here about a failing public service. The fact is, the record of the government on modernising other public services is frankly abysmal. We've got a succeeding fire service, the simple truth is 50 per cent increase in our performance and efficiency over the last ten years. We're quite happy to look at improving the service but modernisation dressed up as four and a half thousand less firefighters in this country over four years, is simply -

DAVID FROST: Whose figure is that, you quoted that before but -

ANDY GILCHRIST: Well that's, that's a figure that was given to us on Thursday, a three per cent cut each year for the next four years - equates roughly to four, to four and a half thousand less firefighters. We need actually more firefighters in this country, with the added responsibilities we're being asked to take on at this time.

DAVID FROST: Really need more - because there's very few professions where with all the skills, technical skills coming in, where you need more people?

ANDY GILCHRIST: Well on top of everything else that people see us doing, the cliff rescues, the train rescues, the car crashes and so on and so forth, we're now being asked to be the primary emergency service inside of what they call the new dimension, the terrorist threat. Now that's an additional burden in terms of equipment, training and indeed response. Now, as I say, the government's own fire cover review says that in fact we need significant new numbers of firefighters and here we have a position which we've got to unreservedly commit ourselves to, four and a half thousand less firefighters. It equates, you know, to roughly 150, one pump, one fire engine stations. A hundred and fifty fire stations in this country disappearing in four years. Thoroughly unacceptable.

DAVID FROST: You mentioned the government there, you said before Christmas that we didn't want New Labour we wanted real Labour, like real ale or something like that. Is this in fact as much a political battle for you against the government -

ANDY GILCHRIST: No we've all -

DAVID FROST: - as it is, as it is a financial battle?

ANDY GILCHRIST: No my comments, prior to Christmas, where about, hopefully anyway, a thoughtful contribution to the debate about the relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party. What we've always wanted to do was resolve a pay dispute. This has been going on for some eight and nine months, and unfortunately at three or four critical moments, the government have intervened, unhelpfully, to stop a resolution to this dispute.

DAVID FROST: But the situation now is that the words on Monday could lead - could lead - to you being there at Acas on Tuesday.

ANDY GILCHRIST: Of course we don't rule out being at Acas, but not on the basis of an unreserved commitment or in fact, as I say, capitulation to the employer's agenda.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed.



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