Crunch talks today in fire wrangle

HOPES of an end to the firefighters' dispute are growing as political pressure mounts.Andy Gilchrist, leader of the Fire Brigade Union, is set for crunch talks today with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

HOPES of an end to the firefighters' dispute are growing as political pressure mounts.

Andy Gilchrist, leader of the Fire Brigade Union, is set for crunch talks today with deputy prime minister John Prescott.

And, locally, Suffolk MPs are uniting in their opposition to the strikes, which many fear could lead to lives being lost.

Both Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley and Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, condemned the action.

Mr Ruffley said: "While having the utmost respect for firefighters in Suffolk, I do not believe they are well served by their union in asking for a 40 per cent pay claim that the British economy cannot provide.

"I look forward to the independent inquiry on pay and conditions – 40 pc is not sustainable."

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Fellow Tory MP Mr Yeo agreed with his colleagues that strikes were not best way for the firefighters to plead their case.

He said: "Striking is not the right way forward. I would plead with them not to strike.

"The effects of the strike will be damaging. Apart from the families who are worried about the dangers of lower fire cover, small businesses will also face difficulties.

"The firefighters' plan could be considered, although it is extremely high it could be considered in other ways.

"I don't think they will be winning any public sympathy, although I have great admiration for the jobs the firefighters do."

National talks featuring government hard-man Mr Prescott are aimed at heading-off industrial action, possibly by bringing forward an independent inquiry.

The inquiry was due to report on pay to the government in December, but there is speculation a compromise between the government and the FBU could see an announcement earlier.

FBU chiefs are also facing increasing pressure to guarantee emergency cover in tune with strike guidelines established after the last industrial action in 1979.

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