Suffolk firefighters prepare to picket

SUFFOLK will today see pickets outside fire stations for the first time in a quarter of a century.And as the first strike deadline loomed for 6pm, there was no sign of positions easing on either side of the dispute.

SUFFOLK will today see pickets outside fire stations for the first time in a quarter of a century.

And as the first strike deadline loomed for 6pm, there was no sign of positions easing on either side of the dispute.

Most retained firefighters in the county will be doing their duty as usual, although they have stressed their support for comrades' pay demands.

But the bulk of firefighting duties will fall on the shoulders of military personnel based in Ipswich.


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Suffolk Police have said they do not expect trouble at the picket lines, but they have stressed they will ensure there is no hindrance to anyone called out for an emergency situation.

A spokesman said: "People who are taking industrial action have the right to conduct peaceful protests while the people who are providing emergency fire cover have the right to go about their business without hindrance."

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There seemed little hope of avoiding industrial action after talks between Fire Brigade Union officials and local government employers collapsed yesterday.

Speaking to massed firefighters outside the London talks, FBU chief Andy Gilchrist laid the blame for the

strike at the hands of the government.

He said: "I am extremely angry. We have no alternative other than to reject the insulting offer which has been made to some of the finest public servants in the world."

And Mr Gilchrist's words were backed at a local level, with Suffolk FBU official Paul Woolstenholmes describing the 11 per cent pay offer made yesterday as "perverse."

But despite the strong feelings among firefighters, there seemed little chance of the government caving in to prevent the first fire strike for 25 years.

Labour Party Chairman John Reid said there was simply not enough money to fund the firefighters' pay demand without significant modernisation within the service.

He said: "We have said from the beginning that the employers do not have more money unless there is an end to restrictive practices and a more efficient fire service. There is a basis for settling this."

While talks were being held between Mr Gilchrist and deputy prime minister John Prescott this morning, they were expected to be over serious emergencies rather than averting the strike.

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