Firefighters’ strikes: Tory Brian Coleman “addicted to conflict”

Green London Assembly Member Darren Johnson has criticised Conservative Fire Authority Chairman Brian Coleman for not wanting a settlement with London firemen.

Darren Johnson AM represents the Green Party in the London Assembly

The dispute over firefighters’ shift patterns has dragged on for several years. But with both union and management agreeing to sit down with an independent panel last autumn it finally looked like an amicable negotiated settlement could be reached. The actions of Conservative Fire Authority chairman, Brian Coleman, however, suggest that an amicable settlement is the last thing he wants.

In the very same week that unions and management sat down to talk, Brian Coleman moved an amendment at the finance committee on November 8th:

“… on whether the Brigade needs all 27 of the fire appliances removed from stations during the current industrial action to be returned or whether there is an over-supply of appliances.”

To talk about permanently removing fire engines was a reckless act almost designed to escalate rather than resolve the shift dispute. On November 28th he then told the Ham & High local paper that FBU members were “thick” and that:

“… we have to break the FBU frankly because they are not a union operating in the interests of their members.”

In spite of such provocation the FBU did recommend to their members to accept the recommendations on shift patterns from the independent panel and their members backed this. However, at Thursday’s meeting Authority Members are still being asked to agree to terminate the existing contracts of 5,500 firefighters and re-employ them under new conditions, if collective agreement is not possible.

We are so very close to an amicable resolution on shift patterns it would be ridiculous to impose a settlement on firefighters by sacking and re-employing them. I am confident that sensible negotiations could iron out the final sticking points. It would be really shoddy industrial relations to impose a settlement when we are so close to an agreement.

The Authority will also be asked to vote on controversial plans to remove Authority Members’ right to table formal questions to the chair. To be fair to Brian, this latest move was not a complete surprise. Prior to the last Fire Authority Meeting he rang me up and threatened to abolish Members’ Questions at meetings altogether if I went ahead with a question about injuries sustained by picketing fire-fighters.

His autocratic behaviour is just incredible. Being able to table questions is an important part of the democratic process and it is rather shocking that anyone would want to remove this right.

What a mess things have got in to. At the last Authority meeting later that month I argued that Brian Coleman had become addicted to conflict as a way of life. It’s time for Brian Coleman to go and the London Mayor should sack him. Then perhaps we could start to see some common sense rather than unnecessary spats.

Update 1512hrs

It has just emerged that Brian Coleman has now backtracked and says he wants a review; he has made himself look completely ridiculous by issuing such draconion proposals and then being forced to backtrack. Backbench representatives being able to ask questions of those in power is a basic of any democratic system.

I still find it worrying that the chair is wanting a review of Members’ Questions, but I hope that it will include his failure to provide adequate answers and allow discussion. I find it shocking that fire-fighters can be injured on picket lines in two seperate incidents and yet there has been no investigation of the behaviour of the contractors who caused these injuires.

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