14 January 2013
TO: ALL MEMBERSDear Brother/Sister
You will be aware that the review of Normal Pension Age for firefighters was due to report by the end of December 2012. Following a slight delay, this report from Dr. Tony Williams has now been published in readiness for a meeting of the Firefighters Pensions Committee on 17 January.
The final document is now available to read on the FBU website. The report includes on an executive summary, a series of chapters and a conclusion with recommendations.
The most significant things for FBU members to note from the Williams report are:
- The report does not provide evidence to support the government proposals for a Normal Pension Age of 60 for the firefighters’ scheme from 2015.
- The report argues that the only way such a change in NPA could be achieved is by significant changes in policy in relation to entry standards; improved monitoring of fitness levels and health; improved arrangements for fitness training and monitoring; and a range of other measures.
- A Normal Pension Age of 60 for the majority of the current workforce (including members of the NFPS) would mean that large numbers of members would be unable to achieve pension age.
It is important to remember in this regard that:
- The review was initiated and commissioned by the Westminster government.
- The Chair (Dr. Williams) was appointed solely by the CLG Fire Minister. Other organisations (including the FBU and the Fire Service employers) played no role in his appointment.
- Although the FBU (and the employers) have attended meetings with Dr. Williams and his team, the findings and conclusions of this review are his alone.
The significance of these factors is that despite this being a review entirely established by CLG it clearly does not provide support for current government policy in relation to firefighter pensions.
The FBU has submitted considerable amounts of evidence to the review based upon the research we have commissioned and undertaken. No other organisation in the Service, including the Fire Service employers, has carried out the level of research undertaken by the FBU on your behalf. Officials have also attended two meetings where representatives of the employers and the employees were invited to discuss the review and some early drafts with the review Chair, Dr. Williams. At these meetings the FBU were the sole representatives of the employees.
The NPA Review Document
The report is heavily focused upon fitness standards. This was a concern raised earlier by the FBU in various letters to the Chair and to the (CLG) Fire Minister as well as being highlighted at the most recent Firefighter Pension Committee.
While the review highlights areas that are problematic and have been challenged it does make several recommendations and observations around fitness standards and selection processes which are supportive of our arguments and which add weight to our consistent arguments about the ability of firefighters to be able to work beyond 55.
Most importantly the report does not provide support for current government policy: i.e. that the NPA of 60 is appropriate and can be justified on medical/health/fitness grounds.
Overall the report suggests there are various problems for current firefighters in relation to their ability to reach NPA 60 although it suggests a model for potentially achieving it for some in the future. It also outlines that there will be significant problems for women maintaining fitness to the NPA 60.
Several areas of the report highlight the difficulties facing current employees in relation to an of NPA 60:
- Most of those already in the FPS will not be fit enough to work to 60 (12.2.5 p.143);
- Many of those in the NFPS will not be fit enough either (11.5.6 p.139);
- Most women firefighters are not fit enough to work to 60 (11.5.5 p.138);
In addition to this the recommendation in the Executive Summary is very unhelpful to the government proposal for an NPA 60.
Fitness selection at recruitment – FRSs should consider informing –applicants that those whose fitness is close to 42 mL∙kg-1∙min-1 are unlikely to maintain fitness to NPA unless they are able to increase their level of physical activity and/or reduce their body mass index.
The impact of this is likely to affect large numbers of current firefighters who have been recruited under current standards. For example the National Firefighter Selection Tests are built around tasks which use VO2 42 as a benchmark. In other words Dr. Williams is clearly stating that the current recruitment and fitness standards cannot sustain a Normal Pension Age of 60. Firefighters who meet these standards on recruitment and afterwards, will be unlikely to be able to meet the same standards as they approach the age of 60. This clearly applies to the majority of current firefighters.
The report also suggests that these firefighters should be able to “leave after age 55 on a pension that is actuarially reduced from age 60 without any additional penalty” (12.8.4 p.145) although it is entirely unclear what this means. This is one of several areas where clarification is being sought.
In summary the unstated conclusions are:
- The NPA cannot be raised to 60 given the occupational nature of firefighting; the physical demands of operational firefighting; the fitness profile of existing firefighters.
- NPA of 60 can only be imposed if Fire Service employers are prepared to dismiss significant numbers of firefighters.
The report includes suggestions about how NPA of 60 could be achieved in the future. While the FBU may disagree with and challenge these suggestions, they include:
- Development of a new national fitness standard;
- Informing those recruited at 42 VO2max that they are unlikely to maintain fitness until NPA 60 without lifestyle changes;
- Regular fitness testing;
- At least 2.5 hours of training a week is incorporated into the daily routine of wholetime firefighters. It also suggests appropriate support and opportunities for fitness training should be provided for firefighters working the Retained Duty System but does not clarify what this entails.
The Union is considering these suggestions and recommendations and is taking legal advice around several areas.
The review also adds weight to the FBU argument that the current proposals on protection are inadequate. It recognises that people who have been recruited with different expectations may struggle to maintain fitness to NPA 60 and suggests in paragraph 11.5.4 page 138:
Some firefighters will have joined under the expectation that they will retire at age 55 or earlier but have now been told their normal pension age will be 60. This could be seen to be unfair, even though the Government has decided that an increase pension ages across the public sector is reasonable and fair. Not all firefighters will be able to maintain physical fitness. People do not age at a standard rate, some will find it harder than others to keep physically fit. A possible option to consider here is to give more protection to those who are members of the 1992 Firefighter Pension Scheme.
Overall View and Next Steps
It is clear on any reading that Dr. Williams has presented government with a report which does not provide support for their current policy. We have consistently argued that:
- There was no evidence which supports an NPA of 60;
- The cost ceiling and other key issues should not have been set until this issue had been resolved.
We have also:
- Continued to provide detailed professional evidence which supported our case.
- Committed significant resources to Dr. Williams’ review process.
Working until 60 – Implications
In an attempt to try and show how an NPA of 60 might be achieved the Williams report creates a whole further series of huge difficulties for Fire Service employers and for government policy.
It is clear that his recommendations on new standards and new systems:
- Could only be applied to future employees;
- Rely on a nationally consistent physical training/ assessment regime (which does not exist in the real world of the UK Fire Service);
- Rely upon a potentially unlawful discrimination of setting an unnecessarily high entrance standard;
- Would eliminate almost any chance of recruiting women into the Service and would thereby roll back decades of work around equality issues.
Most significantly his recommendations would rely on the ability of employers to dismiss a significant number of individuals on capability style dismissals. This is something which all parties to earlier discussions stated they would not support.
These are only some of the areas that mean that this report does not provide support for government policy:
- It has taken a considerable amount of effort from the union to reach this point and the next steps will be very important.
- This is a preliminary analysis of the report. Further work is underway
- The (CLG) Fire Minister is now considering options in relation to the report. We shall seek an early discussion with him on these.
- We shall provide further briefings for members and for MPs and other politicians.
This campaign is clearly reaching a crucial stage. We have fought long and hard against these unjust attacks on our pension rights. At every stage we have provided hard evidence which has undermined the government’s case against us. We also currently face further unjustified increases in pension contributions. It is essential that all members are kept aware of these developments and are fully involved in the next stage of our campaign to defend pension rights.
The government is still planning to change firefighters’ pensions. Its current proposals affect how much firefighters will pay, the age we work to and how much we get during retirement. The Fire Brigades Union has commissioned the independent polling organisation YouGov to survey members about these changes. The union wants members’ views on the changes. All of responses are private and confidential. The data will only be analysed at an aggregated level and no individuals can be identified. Please complete the survey here.
Welcome to the Berkshire FBU e-newsletter designed to help keep members informed of what’s going on around the Brigade, Region and Country.
The articles will give you a brief update of what’s going on and the links will take you to further and more detailed information from the FBU’s local and the national websites.
- e-bulletin Issue No3, can be viewed here (July 2012)
- e-bulletin Issue No2, can be viewed here (April 2012)
- e-bulletin Issue No1, can be viewed here (February 2012)
- e-bulletin Issue No6, can be viewed here (December 2011)
- e-Bulletin Issue No5, can be viewed here (November 2011)
- e-Bulletin Issue No4, can be viewed here (August 2011)
- e-Bulletin Issue No3, can be viewed here (July 2011)
- e-Bulletin Issue No2, can be viewed here (May 2011)
- e-Bulletin Issue No1, can be viewed here (April 2011)
6 July 2012
TO: ALL MEMBERSDear Brother/Sister
This circular is to provide a briefing on the latest position in relation to the various attacks on the Firefighter pension schemes. Please note this does not address issues relating to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Separate proposals have been issued relating to the LGPS and we will be contacting LGPS members specifically on those issues.
Special Conference 2012The Executive Council statement to June’s Special Conference outlined the background to the ‘Hands off our Pensions’ campaign and the Union’s ongoing strategy for defending Firefighter pensions.
It made clear that this campaign is far from over. Currently there is nothing that resembles any sort of acceptable position we could ask members to consider. The Westminster Government has set out a plan where it proposes Firefighters pay at least 13.2% employee contributions and work until at least the age of 60.
Following extensive pressure from the FBU, backed up by a whole range of supporting evidence, they have however agreed to two reviews that potentially provide us with a mechanism to influence their proposals before any final decisions are made. These reviews will examine:
- The appropriate Normal Pension Age (NPA) in a Firefighter scheme.
- The risk of members leaving the scheme (opting out) as a result of increased employee contributions.
Conference agreed that the Union should participate in these reviews. Conference also made clear that national strike action remains very much a possibility if progress is not made on pensions.
So-called Final AgreementOn 24 May the Government set out its proposed Final Agreement. The Union immediately responded with a Letter to Bob Neill (English Fire Minister) highlighting that this misnamed document was unhelpful, unwelcome and would be viewed by many as potentially inflammatory. Bob Neill wrote back on 31 May outlining that the document should not be seen in any way as provocative and the Government remained committed to the reviews. He gave a written assurance that no final decisions would be taken until the results of the reviews had been fully considered. This letter was attached to an All Members circular sent out on 18 June 2012 and is available on the Union’s website (circular 2012HOC0341MW).
This is clearly not any sort of ‘Final Agreement’ since nothing has been agreed. There are still many key issues outstanding. We are aware that Government officials are keen to discuss various issues which have been discussed in other schemes including:
- Accrual rates.
- Commutation factors.
- Protection arrangements.
However, we have made clear that before there is any detailed discussion on such issues we must ensure that we have a realistic Normal Pension Age or the whole scheme would become unworkable as it would not reflect the physical nature of the occupation.
The FBU is in a different situation to most other Unions in respect of the NPA. In most cases they are campaigning to stop an increase from 65 to State Pension Age while we are trying to show that age 60 is not relevant for Firefighter pensions. In reality this means that we are saying there must also be a reduction in the NPA for those people in the New Firefighters Pension Scheme.
The NPA ReviewThe FBU have submitted large amounts of evidence showing that Firefighters cannot work beyond 55 in enough numbers to maintain an effective and efficient Fire Service. This evidence has been based on medical, financial and operational grounds. In each occasion our evidence has been back up by respected experts and professionals in the respective fields. It is important to recognise that while there has been no counter argument or evidence, Government have not accepted this position and still aim to follow their initial position around age 60.
Members who have joined since 2006: New Firefighters’ Pension SchemeThe New Firefighters Pension Scheme (NFPS) was introduced in 2006 and included an increase in Normal Pension Age to 60. The FBU has consistently opposed this increase in the NPA. The then Government justified the change on the grounds that where Firefighters could not reach this age they could be redeployed into suitable roles to enable them to remain employed. We have recently reiterated that these redeployment opportunities simply do not exist. The real position is that an NPA of 60 will mean working operationally until 60.
Review of pension age: NPA
The Union will now seek to address this issue through the review of Normal Pension Age which has been established by the Government. The CLG Fire Minister recently appointed the Chair of this review group, Dr. Tony Williams. Dr. Williams made a presentation on 4 July to the Firefighters Pension Committee.
The Terms of Reference and the funding for this review have been agreed. The review will report back by December 2012 and will consider its findings before any final decisions are taken.
This review process does not provide the Union with any sort of guarantees on the issue of pension age. It does, however, provide a mechanism to formally present our evidence and to challenge the Government’s case on professional and technical grounds.
We have already submitted very strong evidence supporting our position but over the next few weeks we will be working to make sure this is an even stronger. At present we are gathering more evidence to strengthen our objection to age 60 and are confident in our arguments. This evidence will form a more detailed submission that will also be available to members.
The other key concern is around the issue of the proposed contribution rates which at 13.2% would be unaffordable and would mean that many Firefighters would be priced out of a pension scheme. The FBU have warned that as people chose to opt out or do not join the scheme the cashflow and liability of the scheme would be dramatically affected. The Government initially used an assumption that only 1% of people would opt out of the scheme but have recognised that the weight of argument put forward by the FBU could mean that this might be much higher.
As a result the initial position has changed and there will now be a review of the impact of Year 1 increases on opt-outs or non-joiners before they make any decision on future increases. This review is already underway.
This review is in two parts:
- Review of data.
- Survey of attitudes towards the Firefighter pension schemes.
The review of historical data has started and a questionnaire has been issued to Fire Authorities examining issues around opt outs and non-joiners. This information, which is being collected and updated to identify trends, will be shared with the FBU and other stakeholders. The second part involves teams meeting Firefighters face-to-face to discuss the impact of the increases and to ascertain attitudes towards the pension schemes and confidence in them.
The evidence from both parts of this review will be discussed and considered before any further decision is taken on future increases.
Again, it is important to stress that this is only a mechanism to possibly influence future Government decisions. There are no guarantees. However, it is the evidence submitted by the FBU which has led to the review being established.
Contribution increases: April 2012
The FBU made a strong case for no increase at all in the first year and continues to oppose any increase in contributions. As a result of pressure the increases were reduced from those originally planned and in comparison with the increases imposed on other schemes. Nevertheless, we still saw an increase of around £14.00 a month for Firefighters in the FPS and £7.00 a month for firefighters in the NFPS. Our task is to oppose and challenge the case for further increases. The Review of Opt-out provides one mechanism (among others) for this.
This campaign is far from over and we have not got anything like an acceptable position to put to members. The two reviews are mechanisms by which we will try to influence future decisions. We have committed to taking part in them but FBU members will remain justifiably cautious and suspicious of them.
- We are identifying and uncovering more information and evidence to support our opposition to the current proposals.
- We have not been asked to agree to any proposals or asked to sign up to any agreement and have made our position clear on this.
- We continue to monitor the situation and to ensure members are well informed about the detail of the reviews and of any related discussions.
- We continue to campaign politically, outlining our position and the evidence which supports it.
Further detail on the current situation will be published in Firefighter magazine and further reports will be issued as the two reviews develop. Our campaign to oppose these attacks and to defend good quality pension schemes in the Fire and Rescue Service continues.
18 June 2012
TO: ALL MEMBERSDear Brother/Sister
Members will be aware that we wrote to the Fire Minister on 29 May 2012 following his ministerial statement and the release of the Government’s proposed “final agreement” for firefighter pensions.
Our letter, which was circulated to all members as circular 2012HOC0283AD, reiterated our disappointment with the timing of the document and that we felt it was unhelpful, unnecessary and potentially inflammatory. The Union has not and does not accept this as any sort of final position on the issue of pensions.
Our letter outlined that the most significant problems are still the proposed contribution increases and the Normal Pension Age (NPA). We explained that there are also other issues of concern such as accrual rates, revaluation rates and commutation factors and that we feel that the logical position is to pursue a workable NPA as a priority. Other issues are largely dependent on a scheme being affordable and having a workable and realistic NPA.
We stressed that we remain fundamentally opposed to the proposed employee contribution increase and the proposal for a Normal Pension Age of 60 for firefighters.
We outlined that the two reviews might be a mechanism for addressing these concerns but that by presenting a document at this juncture, which proposes the final position before the reviews have reported, the Minister had raised further concern around their value and status.
The Fire Minister responded on 31 May (letter attached) outlining that the Government’s previous commitment to the two reviews (on opt-outs and on Normal Pension Age) had not in any way diminished. The letter reaffirmed the Government’s intention to conduct these reviews with input from trade unions and employers. In the last paragraph of the letter the Fire Minister confirms that the reviews will be concluded and all the associated evidence will be carefully considered before any final decision is made.
Although we now have the attached written assurances around the reviews and any final decisions, FBU members will recognise that the reviews only present a mechanism for influencing the Government’s proposals and that the Executive Council statement to Conference recognises the need for a constant monitoring of any developments, including if necessary preparing for strike action.
29th May 2012
TO: BRIGADE SECRETARIES
Cc: All OfficialsDear Brother/Sister,
Please find attached a copy of the letter we have sent to the Fire Minister, Bob Neill, in response to the ministerial statement and the proposed final agreement document.
Please also find attached a circular has been distributed to All Branches and posted on the fbu website.
The response outlines our disappointment with the timing of the document and that we felt it was unhelpful, unnecessary and potentially inflammatory and asks for a real demonstration of government’s commitment to the two reviews.
It is made clear in all the correspondence that this mis-named Final Agreement remains unacceptable as it still proposes a scheme with unaffordable/unfair contribution rates and an unworkable and unrealistic normal pension age. This can only mean one thing; an unsustainable scheme for the fire service which is a position that we cannot accept.
A meeting had already been arranged between the FBU and CLG for Thursday 31 May 2012 where the current position will be discussed in detail. A full report will be given to the Executive Council meeting on 7 June 2012.
Yours in Unity,
29th May 2012
TO: ALL MEMBERSDear Brother/Sister,
We have today written to the CLG Fire Minister with a formal response to his ministerial statement and the document which is titled “Final Agreement”.
We expressed our disappointment with the timing of the document and that we felt it was unhelpful, unnecessary and potentially inflammatory.
As in the case of the Heads of Agreement, this document details all the main parameters of the proposed scheme and as before we have responded by stating that the major problems are still the contribution increases and the normal pension age.
We reiterated that there are other issues of concern such as accrual rates, revaluation rates and commutation factors and that we feel that the logical position is to pursue a workable NPA as a priority. Other issues are largely dependent on a scheme being affordable and having a workable and realistic NPA.
Whilst recognising the government’s commitment to their agenda for the future of the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme, we stressed that in contrast we remain fundamentally opposed to the proposed employee contribution increase and the proposal for a normal pension age of 60 for firefighters.
We outlined that the two reviews could be the mechanism for addressing these concerns but that by presenting a document at this juncture, which proposes the final position before the reviews have reported, raises further concern around their value and status and asked for a real demonstration of their commitment to this process.
I must emphasise that this mis-named Final Agreement remains unacceptable as it still proposes a scheme with unaffordable/unfair contribution rates and an unworkable and unrealistic normal pension age. This can only mean one thing; an unsustainable scheme for the fire service which is a position that we cannot accept.
We await the content of any response we receive to our letter from the Fire Minister.
Assistant General Secretary
26 March 2012
TO: ALL MEMBERSDear Brother/Sister
Members will be aware that the Executive Council recently adjourned in order to be able to discuss all aspects of pensions once further information was available.
The key issues for consideration are:
- Review of opt-outs and the implications of increasing employee contributions.
- Review of Normal Pension Age.
- Employee pension contribution for 2012-2013.
The Firefighters Pension Committee (FPC) meets this week (28 March) and, among other things, will consider the following two papers – which are both attached:
- Review of Opt-outs: Terms of Reference.
- LGA Proposal for the Firefighters’ Pensions Committee’s Review of Normal Pension Age for Firefighters.
The FBU has argued that Central Government proposals to increase employee contributions will have the effect of increasing the number of members who choose to opt-out of (or not join) the schemes. We submitted significant evidence around this issue. As a result of the subsequent discussions with Employers and Government it has been agreed that the FPC should conduct a thorough review of the issues raised. The Terms of Reference for this are attached and work has already begun to identify data and other information which will be required.
Likewise, the FBU has consistently challenged the suggestion that Firefighters will be able, in significant numbers to work to a Normal Pension Age (NPA) of 60. Again we have submitted significant evidence on this issue. As a result of the subsequent discussions the Employers have made the proposal for a review of NPA for members of the Firefighters’ schemes. Terms of Reference for this review have been submitted for the FPC meeting this week and are attached for your information.
We expect an announcement to be made in relation to pension contributions soon and will provide that information as soon as it is available.
The Executive Council meets later this week and will assess developments in relation to employee contribution increases and the two reviews.
19 March 2012
TO: ALL MEMBERS
The Executive Council met on 8 and 9 March to hear reports from discussions with our members on the latest position in relation to pensions and to receive reports of the latest developments in talks with Government. The meeting was scheduled so as to ensure that Executive Council members would be able to consider all aspects of the issue, including a likely decision on contribution increases for the year from April 2012. We had been informed that this decision was likely to be made by Government on or before 8 March. While this decision directly affects only members of the Firefighter schemes in England we are also aware that the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following closely what decisions are made in relation to the schemes in England.
We were subsequently informed by CLG officials that no decision had yet been made on the issue of contributions and that the matter was still being considered. The Executive Council agreed that it would be necessary to assess and discuss all aspects of this issue and therefore agreed to adjourn until full information is available. We have held further discussions with CLG officials but at this stage we are still unable to confirm when this information will be available.
In the meantime we have continued to discuss further the details of the proposed review of Normal Pension Age and the review of opt outs and related issues. As soon as further detail on these is available they will be circulated for your information and consideration. The Executive Council has agreed to reconvene as soon as this full picture is available.
The FBU has produced a new Pensions Bulletin, which explains the union’s views on the government’s latest pension proposals. This bulletin has been sent to members’ home addresses and to fire stations. The FBU is holding a three-week consultation on the proposals – please see your local FBU representatives for details of meetings in your brigade and region.