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Surrey Fire Chiefs Trying to Gag Us on Public Safety Worries, Union Claims

Published on: 13 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 14 Oct, 2020

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

The Fire Brigades Union has accused Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) of trying to gag them about their public safety concerns.

A council officer acting for SFRS told members of the Guildford Joint Committee they should use their discretion to refuse the union permission, in future meetings, to share details of “the matters discussed in the course of the parties’ attempts to resolve the trade dispute”.

Councillors were also asked to tell any member of the public who raised the issue in a meeting that it was not appropriate for discussion.

Surrey FBU chair Simon Harris said: “We would like to have representation at joint and local committee meetings to ensure our voice is heard. Debating in an open forum is the best way to keep people honest.”

The union believes if councillors agreed to the request that would effectively ban them from having a public voice. Forbidding them to talk about anything discussed in trying to find a resolution would include staffing of fire stations.

This is a bone of contention because the SFRS Making Surrey Safer Plan, now in its second phase, involves transferring 30 frontline firefighters to fire prevention roles and others having shift lengths extended as night-time crews move over to day.

Management says this better serves the people because demand is greater in daytime, and Surrey County Council, responsible for the fire service, says much of their meeting time has already been devoted to the SFRS plan.

Mr Harris added: “We will say how it is; we have nothing to gain by telling lies. SFRS do not want us present because they know this and, unfortunately, this is what we are up against.”

A council spokesperson said a public forum was not the appropriate place for confidential discussions, but they had been transparent throughout the debate.

An email sent last week, reads: “SFRS would also ask that if the FBU do make future attempts to share details of confidential discussions regarding the trade dispute at local/joint committee meetings, the committee exercise its discretion to refuse the FBU permission to do so.

“Further, if members of the public raise this issue, again SFRS would be grateful if it could be pointed out there is a trade dispute which the parties are seeking to resolve and it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter further.”

Cllr George Potter

A leaked response from borough Cllr George Potter (Lib Dem, Burpham), which copied in all other committee members, said he could not personally agree with the request from the SFRS, calling it “deeply unworthy and highly inappropriate”.

His email tells a council officer: “Discussion on the state of a service which has a direct impact on public safety should not be kept behind closed doors under the justification of a trade dispute.

“There is justifiable public concern at the state of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and many councillors will have received correspondence both from members of the public and from firefighters and their families.

“I do not see how it would be serving the public, or doing our duty as councillors, if we were to try to prevent the reasoning of either side from being placed in the public arena.”

A spokesperson for the county council said: “Local and joint committees are a public forum and therefore participants are advised not to share the detail of confidential discussions in that forum.

“Public discussion of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s Making Surrey Safer Plan has been widespread, with the issue and related petition discussed at length at last week’s Surrey County Council cabinet meeting, as well as Surrey County Council’s recent select committee meeting and previous full council and cabinet meetings.

“The SFRS leadership and Surrey county councillors have engaged fully in that public debate and have been totally transparent throughout.”

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test 2 Responses to Surrey Fire Chiefs Trying to Gag Us on Public Safety Worries, Union Claims

  1. John Perkins Reply

    October 14, 2020 at 10:20 am

    SCC: “a public forum was not the appropriate place for confidential discussions, but they had been transparent throughout”

    It’s difficult to think up anything more insincere.

    Why should the discussions be confidential? There are conducted between publicly paid officials and publicly paid employees on a subject of public concern. What part of “public” do those at SCC not understand?

  2. Denise Hilton Reply

    October 14, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    I’m wondering which Guildford Joint Committee the reporter is referring to? There isn’t one listed until November this year and the last one was July 2020.

    So I cannot see any details, which feature in the report.

    Please could this be clarified?

    Editor’s response: The council officer was advising Guildford Joint Committee that they should use their discretion to refuse the union permission to share details of “the matters discussed in the course of the parties’ attempts to resolve the trade dispute” in all future meetings. The article has been amended for clarification.

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