Councillors play a vital role in supporting and improving the work of local fire and rescue services.
The National Joint Council (NJC) is a UK-wide collective bargaining body where employer and employee representatives negotiate, determining pay and terms and conditions for some 48,500 uniformed employees of fire and rescue authorities from firefighters to middle managers.
Councillors play a vital role in this work, holding most of the 14 employer seats on the NJC.
I am proud to say that annual pay settlements have been reached by agreement for many years, without dispute; important for a sector where industrial relations can sometimes be difficult. This year, agreement was reached on a 2 per cent uplift.
While there have been suggestions by some (such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) of a potential pay review body, awards through many such bodies this year would have been unaffordable.
Having been excluded from decision-making, we would now be considering pay bill and subsequent wider consequences; not to mention how such a change for England alone could be accommodated across the UK.
That’s why I believe pay bargaining should remain as close and in touch with the service as possible.
Members are happy to consider evolution, given nothing is ever perfect, but we must always ensure change is necessary and delivers, otherwise the consequences would be wrong for the service.
In difficult times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we have again proven our worth – quickly putting in place arrangements to support communities in responding to the challenge. Utilising the already strong working relationship between the National Employers and the Fire Brigades Union, we joined together with the operational expertise of the National Fire Chiefs Council to agree arrangements that to date have seen 14 areas of additional work available to fire and rescue services.
These range from driving ambulances to body removal, delivery of essential items to vulnerable people and personal protective equipment (PPE) more widely, to assisting care homes with PPE training, to name just a few.
This agreement would not have been possible without the involvement of the NJC, specifically employer and employee representatives of the NJC, working to achieve the required outcomes and temporary changes to terms and conditions of employment.
Mindful always of the safety of staff and the communities within which we work, these additional activities are underpinned by rigorous risk assessments.
Another important area is equality, diversity and inclusion. The NJC-led Inclusive Fire Service Group is working hard to drive forward much-needed improvement. Unique in the fire sector, it comprises national employer and employee representation as well as senior management and trade unions.
The group identified a number of evidence-based improvement strategies, secured the support of fire and rescue services and, having allowed time for the strategies to become embedded, has recently completed a monitoring exercise.
This included a survey of fire and rescue services, employee focus groups (BAME, LGBT and female) and workshops with equality and diversity officers and union representatives.
A detailed report of the findings will be published shortly. However, it is pleasing to see that this work is already starting to deliver improvement.
I look forward to our continued and constructive approach of working together and making progress on this important agenda and all the activities the NJC undertakes.