15th September 2013
Proposal on pensions from the Scottish Government
I am sending this circular as I believe that the members in Scotland are entitled to see the proposals that we have received from the Government.
Emergency resolution 3 carried at this year’s conference stated:
Conference congratulates FBU members for their determination in campaigning for decent pensions. Conference notes that despite numerous assurances, neither the Westminster government nor the relevant ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have addressed the concerns of firefighters in relation to pension arrangements. This was clearly confirmed when employee pension contributions were again increased in all parts of the UK from April 2013.
Conference agrees that the FBU should remain ready to engage in genuine negotiations around the concerns we have raised and are willing to meet Ministers at any point with the aim of achieving improvements. Conference believes that as far as possible FBU members should have the same pension arrangements in all parts of the UK. Therefore, in order to ensure consistency and continuity, all negotiations will be led by the General Secretary and shall be reported at each stage to the Executive Council. This includes any discussion within any part of the UK.
Subsequently 4 separate trade dispute letters were sent to the 4 Governments/Administrations in the UK. (Although we have only balloted 3 out of the 4)
The Head Office press release on the 29th August 2013 stated:
The FBU has today received some proposals from the Scottish Government which require further clarification and consideration. The union has not yet set strike dates and will seek further dialogue with the relevant government ministers and fire service employers in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
Head Office Circular 13th September 2013:
As we have set out, the Executive Council has been clear throughout that we have sought to avoid strike action if at all possible. That approach has been discussed and debated throughout the past two years and endorsed by our Conference.
In view of this we have engaged in discussions since our strike ballot result. These have included meetings with:
• Scottish Government
• Welsh First Minister
• CLG Fire Minister
And goes on to say:
The Executive Council acknowledge the position of the Scottish Government which is to engage positively with the Union, offer improved proposals and not set any arbitrary deadlines for talks.
In light of this position, the Executive Council has not called any strike action in Scotland. The Executive Council will now consult and communicate with FBU members in Scotland and the UK on the proposals received thus far and the ongoing talks.
The Executive Council agreed that the General Secretary meets with the Scottish Government to gain more clarification on the proposal received. Sean Starbuck, National Officer, was instructed to attend on behalf of the Gen Sec. The meeting clarified a number of areas. We discussed the issue of capability and fitness; the service again confirmed their commitment to work together in the development of the new policies to embody the approach that no member should leave the job without a pension on fitness capability. We are expecting a draft outline proposal from the service very soon.
It was confirmed at this meeting that the Scottish Government will match any improvement that occurs from elsewhere in the UK. Also that the offer of retirement from age 55 as previously circulated by Brandon Lewis MP (English Fire Minister), with the actuarial reductions, will remain regardless of whether the offer is withdrawn elsewhere. The issue of extending the protection arrangements was again raised; the offer of similar to police arrangements was confirmed however they were unable to agree to extend this further.
Given the time it has taken to progress these questions and gain the clarification then it has not been appropriate to circulate the documentation, however in light of the above and the fact that the press and media, including the Scottish Minister for Community Safety, are now reporting that no strikes are to be called in Scotland at this point, then I considered it appropriate to circulate the letters. However given that there will now be a new version of the draft proposal with the agreed changes from last Fridays meeting then I will only attach the 2 letters and not the full document at this time.
As your Executive Council Member I will be asking at the EC for a consultative ballot of the Scottish membership in order that the members can decide on the proposal/offer.
The Scottish Government/Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have requested an extension of the 28 day period due to the ongoing discussions, this was agreed by the EC and therefore the members in Scotland now have 56 days from the declaration of the ballot result (29th August) to use the mandate or have to re ballot.
We need to be clear on the current positions, as a consequence of devolution; the responsibility for fire was devolved in full to Scotland. This has resulted in a separate Fire Act and the creation of a Scottish Firefighters Pension Forum. The Forum was necessary as Scotland were no longer part of the Department for Communities and Local Government pensions committee, DCLG, and under the Fire Act the members of the schemes must have an avenue for consultation. Through no actions of the FBU our pension’s responsibility lie with 4 different Governments/Administrations a fact we have acknowledged since the start of the dispute in that we could face 4 different proposals, this is why the trade dispute was lodged in the separate Countries.
Clearly the preference would be for the same settlement in all 4 Countries as stated in the emergency resolution to conference however, we now have a proposal from the Scottish Government that addresses the areas that they feel they can move on without incurring a financial penalty from Whitehall, for every unauthorised £ spent, and additional £ would be taken from the block grant settlement. Members will also recall the previous Fire Minister in Scotland addressed the ill health issue before the DGLG seen sense.
The Executive Council have not yet taken a decision on whether or not the proposal are acceptable, but on the basis that they are positive proposals and that no deadline for reaching agreement has been demanded, the EC have agreed to not call for strike action in Scotland at this time and to agree to extend the 28 day period as mentioned above.
This time should allow for members to be consulted on the offer, given the short timescales demanded by the law on industrial action and the geography of our region, I will, therefore on your behalf, be requesting a consultative ballot to home addresses at the EC meeting this coming week.
Given that the EC has not made a decision on our attitude to the proposal and that your Regional officials and Scottish Committee only received the document on Friday, then I will not make any comment on the content. I am aware that others are filling any vacuum of information with guesswork and conjecture and it is for that reason I have decided to publish the two recent letters received by the FBU from the Scottish Service and Government.
The new draft proposal will be posted on line and sent to all branches as soon as possible when it is received.
Please discuss at your Branch meeting and ensure your views are expressed.
Executive Council member