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House of Commons Hansard
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Firefighters Pensions
16 March 2015
Volume 594
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8. What progress his Department has made on resolving the dispute over firefighters pensions. [908054]

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The firefighters pension scheme 2015 will come into force on 1 April. The national employers have agreed to work with the Fire Brigades Union to ensure the fitness principles detailed in the national framework are incorporated into local policies. The dispute should now come to an end.

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The Minister gave a promise that firefighters would be redeployed if they were deemed unfit at the age of 55 or over. Will she tell us once and for all how many redeployment opportunities exist for firefighters in that position in England?

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Fire authorities are devolved organisations and we do not hold that information at departmental level. The hon. Lady is incorrect, as someone would be offered a redeployment if one existed or an unreduced pension if one did not exist. The working group on firefighter fitness considers those redeployment opportunities as part of its remit and I think that the shape of the fire and rescue service in the future and the many new things that firefighters will be doing will mean that there will be roles that are more suitable for those who are not fit enough to perform all the roles that a firefighter might.

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The excellent Minister has again reassured the House that if a firefighter, through no fault of his or her own, fails the fitness test after the age of 55, they will be redeployed, given help to reach the required fitness level or given a full pension. I am afraid that chief fire officers up and down the country are saying that is untrue. We are the Government and we make the decisions, not chief fire officers. How can we get them to confirm that fact, which is true?

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My hon. Friend is correct; since the statutory instrument was laid, a firefighter can no longer be dismissed simply for losing fitness. They must also have quality fitness support and six months of remedial training if they lose fitness but do not qualify for ill-health retirement. In addition, if fire authorities comply with the national framework, no firefighter will find themselves with no job and no pension. If a fire authority does not comply, the Secretary of State will intervene. Employers are now working on guidance to show how they will implement the new principles in the framework, and that will include the process with the firefighter and the principles on which an unreduced pension would be offered. That does give a guarantee, and it is a considerable improvement on what went before.

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Woeful!

The Minister promised to negotiate with firefighters on pensions, but then she just laid the regulations regardless. She promised national fitness standards, but that has not happened either. She guaranteed either redeployment or a full pension to those who cannot retain their fitness, but fire and rescue authorities across the country are clear that that is a promise they legally cannot deliver. Broken promises, lack of action and lack of leadership: what a miserable record. Is she ashamed? If not, why not?

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I shall run through the statutory instrument, but first I will just point out that if the hon. Lady thinks my record is shoddy, she might like to take a closer look at her own: she introduced working until 60 in 2006 without any protections at all. Since the statutory instrument came into effect, firefighters can no longer be dismissed for losing fitness, as the hon. Lady knows. They are now protected by the new principles in the national framework. [Interruption.] They are. The national employer guidance will add further weight to that. If she is still unsatisfied, I offer her this challenge: to write to me and outline a circumstance in which a firefighter would face losing their job for losing fitness and would not be protected if the fire authorities were following the national framework principles.