London’s fire Commissioner has been accused of making “utterly untrue” statements after claiming that union members failed to agree a deal which would have seen thirteen fire engines return to the frontline.
The engines were withdrawn from day-to-day service two years ago and placed in reserve to ensure contractors could provide emergency cover during strikes by members of the Fire Brigades Union.
Mayor Boris Johnson has cited their absence from the frontline as justification for his decision to instruct Commissioner Rob Dobson to draw up budget plans which would see the engines permanently axed.
Unions say the vehicles should return to duty in accordance with a deal they claim to have already agreed with Mr Dobson and his team prior to the Mayor’s intervention.
In October 2014 the two sides had talks about a possible deal which would see the vehicles back on the frontline in return for the union providing sufficient notice of strikes for them to be handed over to contractors.
However over the weekend Mr Dobson told the BBC that although the deal was discussed, it was “never” accepted by the FBU.
He told the broadcaster’s Sunday Politics programme: “We discussed it with the Fire Brigades Union at the time, and I gave them an offer which, if they’d accepted it, those 13 fire engines could have gone back into service in between strikes.
“That could have been accepted, but it never was unfortunately.”
Paul Embery, the FBU’s leader in London, has described the Commissioner’s claims as both “astonishing” and “utterly untrue”.
In a letter sent to Dobson on Monday, Mr Embery said: “As you must know, following lengthy discussions between London FBU officials and your officers, the union eventually agreed to your terms on 8 June 2015.
He adds: “I cannot imagine why you told your interviewer that the FBU never accepted your offer. But, whatever the reason, your statement was completely at odds with the facts.”
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson has defended the Commissioner’s comments, saying that Mr Dobson: “wrote to the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union on 1 October 2014 and again on 21 October with a proposal that, if agreed, would have enabled the 13 fire engines to have returned between periods of strike action. This was not accepted and not raised again by the FBU for seven months.”
“Had the Commissioner’s initial offer been accepted then the fire engines would have been back at stations over 12 months ago.”
Mr Embry has described the statement as “disingenuous in the extreme” and said the Commissioner “is arguing that, because his offer wasn’t immediately accepted, he was justified in telling the BBC that it was ‘never’ (i.e. not ever) accepted – even though we did eventually accept it.
“That line of defence is utterly unsustainable. The fact that we accepted his offer is incontrovertible; there is documentation attesting to it, and he knows it. What he should have told the programme is that the brigade and FBU reached agreement on the return of the appliances, but that agreement collapsed when the mayor vetoed it.
“But, then, that would have meant the Commissioner publicly criticising the mayor, which he would never do. Much easier for him to blame the FBU, even if it is at odds with the facts.”
The fate of the engines will be discussed at a meeting of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority on Wednesday.