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As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) sits for two days (11-12 December) to determine its terms of reference on how it will take evidence from witnesses and participants, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has expressed concerns about a member of the GTI expert witness panel, former Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Steve McGuirk.

The former CFO for both Greater Manchester and Cheshire is too closely associated with the running of the fire service, say the FBU, as well as being a known ‘moderniser’. McGuirk was a key player within the service when it was taken apart, with service fragmentation leading to the abolition of the structures that protected its high standards. As a result, it is less able to provide a fast, fully crewed, professional response to fires and other incidents.

McGuirk was also a member of the then Chief Fire Officers’ Association’s Presidential team, which advised central Government on safety issues that are now being put under scrutiny. Both he and panel member Joyce Redfearn, a retired Clark to the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority, were also Deputy Lieutenants for Greater Manchester – these links were not disclosed when the GTI panel was announced.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary for the FBU, said:

“It is alarming that someone who has basically supported cuts to the fire and rescue service, who thinks for example that sprinklers are a replacement for a fully funded service, is going to be on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry panel as an expert witness. We need someone who supports much needed investment into the diminishing fire and rescue service. Instead we have a former CFO who has effectively agreed that cutting jobs and fire engines, and closing down fire stations, is justified – he has said as much. To place him on the panel of an inquiry into the worst fire since WWII, during which the availability fire service resources will inevitably be explored, is irresponsible to say the least.”

The FBU complained about the appointment of Steve McGuirk, and the inquiry as a result have promised the union the opportunity to robustly challenge his evidence. The FBU has also sought permission to instruct an operational firefighter expert to provide additional evidence, and to give an independent peer review of McGuirk’s evidence.

The FBU is seeking assurances from the GTI team that all of the appointed assessors and experts have been asked to declare any involvement in or association with companies that may have installed cladding or insulation windows to high rise residential blocks.

The union has in addition requested the opportunity to make submissions to help firefighters and control operators to give their best evidence during Phase 2 of the Inquiry. It has also asked that Phase 1 proceeds without further delay, and that it happens in tandem with the police investigation, instead of awaiting its outcome.

The FBU also asks that a venue for the inquiry is found as close as possible to Grenfell Tower so that as many survivors and witnesses can attend as is possible.

Representatives and Branch Officials from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the DVSA have reported that the start of the 2 day strike has been very well supported. Picket lines were out across the country this morning (4) and will be again tomorrow (5).

Thousands of tests have been cancelled – or just not arranged for these days - as a result of the action. After the strike ends tomorrow the backlog of tests will be further added to by an overtime ban. The blame for this disruption lies squarely with the DVSA and the Department for Transport due to their insistence on imposing changes to terms and conditions on staff which have been rejected by the vast majority of staff in recent ballots.

PCS was pleased to welcome the statement today from Labour Shadow Minister Rachael Maskell who stated –

"It is appalling that DVSA senior managers and ministers have allowed this dispute to escalate, meaning thousands of driving tests are having to be cancelled.

"Driving examiners have told me they have serious and genuine concerns about the safety of the new test and we support the PCS union's call for it to be suspended to allow for further analysis.

"Instead of stoking disputes like this and demonising unions who raise concerns, the next Labour government will work with staff, their representatives and employers to protect working conditions while improving standards."

Mark Serwotka PCS General Secretary said today

“The determination of our members in DVSA is clear. They are standing up both for the issues of driver and learner safety in the new test and against the imposition of new conditions imposed on them by senior management. Ministers instead of adding to the confusion with misleading statements should be insisting that serious negotiations are restarted with the unions. We remain ready to negotiate but are equally determined to stand up for our members rights. Chris Grayling needs to act now.

Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond's Budget statement totally failed to offer any light at the end of the tunnel for millions across Britain.

Leaving in place the 1% public sector pay cap at a time when inflation is running at over 3% means yet more cuts to the real wages of the people struggling to keep our austerity-hammered public services afloat.  

Starving the economy of much needed investment in public services is also economically illiterate, and is resulting in what the OBR forecasts now acknowledge is resulting in a sustained failure to achieve significant growth or increases in productivity.

Uprating of the National Minimum Wage will still mean that 19 and 20 year old workers will earn just £5.90 an hour from April 2018, when the Living Wage is already £8.75 an hour across most of the UK and £10.20 in London.   Workers aged 21-25 won't do much better on just £7.83 from April.

Nor will the scrapping of Stamp Duty for first time buyers on the first £300,000 of the purchase of properties costing up to £500,000 do much to make home ownership a viable prospect for most young working people.  The Government should be investing in a mass programme of council house building to meet the rocketing need for genuinely affordable housing.

Hammond and the Tories clearly have no solutions to the problems facing the Economy.  The Budget showed that in terms of ideas they are running on empty.    

Our services are crying out for investment.  Workers across the country are long overdue a pay rise.   The Government's failure is leaving little alternative but to coordinate industrial action to bring this about.  

THE FIREFIGHTERS' DILEMMA

TUCG: MARK SERWOTKA ON THE FIGHT AGAINST AUSTERITY

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