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Assemblies for democracy

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Fire minister accused of lying over pensions as firefighters strike

Firefighters’ leader Matt Wrack has accused the government of lying to parliament to force through changes to pensions. He was speaking as firefighters across England staged another strike in defence of their hard-won pension conditions.

Photo report by Paul Feldman

Thousands rallied at a lunchtime rally in Westminster and then lobbied MPs in Parliament.

The Fire Brigades Union said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but that an unworkable scheme was being imposed by the government in England.

FBU rally
West Midlands firefighters outside the London rally

Fire minister Penny Mordaunt was accused of misleading parliament after she told MPs that if a firefighter loses fitness through no fault of their own they should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.

Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, said:

“Firefighters are justifiably angry with how this government is treating them. MPs, the public and firefighters were completely misled and given a false guarantee in order to pass the legislation. This is wrong.

“Firefighters will be protesting in parliament to make their voices heard. We will not accept these lies. If they can lie to firefighters they can lie to anyone and everyone.”

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

“In England, firefighters continue to face the threat of losing their job at 55 and having their pensions massively reduced. Government ministers are busy making false promises instead of working to find a real solution to this long-standing concern.”   

Wrack earlier told the BBC that firefighters signed up to a pension deal that is being ripped up. He said:

"They are not getting the pension they were promised. The pension changes take no account of the real job that they do, that's physically demanding.

"And they are paying huge amounts for it, over £4,000 a year on a salary of less than £29,000 a year. That's one of the most expensive schemes in the public or private sector for a scheme that doesn't even promise they'll get paid anything in the end."

Tony Smith
Tony Smith

Tony Smith from Hertfordshire who is a firefighter in Watford said:

“It’s about what the people really want versus what the politicians want. And we all know they are in there feathering their own nests, topping up their million pound pension pots.

“They are not interested in a firefighter who is no longer able to pay their mortgage and have to take second jobs. Even that’s not enough. They’ve got to come after their pensions, pensions that were signed up 20 and 25 years ago.

They’re also pulling the service apart. We had a station closed in Radlett. We had a petition that every person in the village signed, to keep their fire station, and the politicians ignored it. In fact, the local Tory politician walked away from politics as a result. He suddenly realised he wasn’t living in the democracy he thought he was living in."

He didn’t think the outcome of the general election would make a difference, adding: “There’s a problem with the system. They are all in it together. It was the Labour government that started all the cuts to the fire service.”

Tony referred to Labour’s regional control “debacle”, with £169 million of public money going “straight down the drain”, adding:  

“We need real democracy, real accountability. We want public services, health, education. That’s what we want. We don’t want wars, with our 18-year-old squaddies being sent out there and being blown to bits. For what? So the 1% can get rich.”

25 February 2015

FBU fire engine

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