Firefighters to vote over contracts
Firefighters in the UK's biggest brigade will start voting on Friday on whether to take industrial action in a row over new contracts.
Thousands of members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in London will decide if they want to launch a campaign of action, which could start at the end of September.
The union went ahead with the ballot after complaining that firefighters were going to be sacked and re-employed on new contracts, including different shifts.
Matt Wrack, the FBU's general secretary said: "It's a great shame that London firefighters have to consider industrial action, but they won't tolerate attempts to threaten or intimidate them. The proposal to end the contracts of all London firefighters is the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen in the fire service. If they are going to go down this road there is only one way to challenge them and that is strike action. For our own self esteem we have to do something about it.
"Even under the last government we had fewer firefighters at the end of 13 years than we had at the beginning. There was no golden age in the fire service. There has been some expansion - human resources departments have expanded into little empires. The people who are taking these decisions about cutting the service and reducing night-time fire cover in London have not the first idea what firefighting is all about."
The ballot result is due on September 17.
Meanwhile, the FBU said a radio programme which claimed that millions of pounds were being wasted on unused fire engines and unoccupied new control centres as part of a revamp of the fire service showed a "shocking litany of wasted money".
BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts said nine new regional centres in England had been standing empty for up to three years because of problems in developing their computer systems. The monthly rent for the empty buildings was costing taxpayers £1 million a month, and they will not be all in use until 2013, sending the programme more than £350 million over budget, it was reported.
The FBU has been campaigning for years against the new centres, which were ordered by the previous Labour government.
Mr Wrack said: "The programme provided a shocking litany of wasted money in fire service procurement, on regional control centres which are still lying idle, on equipment that is not fit for use, on new recliners for firefighters which are not fit for purpose. Millions of pounds are being wasted. Decisions are being made by people who know nothing at all about firefighting. Meanwhile there are cuts in things that really matter - firefighters, fire stations, equipment - to pay for all this madness."