Bonfire Night fire strike called off

A planned Bonfire Night strike by thousands of firefighters in a bitter row over new contracts was dramatically called off tonight just hours before it was due to start.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union in London were due to walk out for 47 hours from 10am tomorrow, leaving staff from a private firm to provide emergency cover over the busiest period of the year.

But following a meeting of FBU leaders, it was announced that the union had decided to cancel the strike after concerns about public safety as well as progress in peace talks.

The London Fire Brigade and the Government welcomed the move, which means that contingency plans for dealing with industrial action will not be needed.

Staff from private firm AssetCo had been lined up to provide emergency cover, using 27 fire engines instead of the usual 150 available in the capital.

The fire brigade said that, following negotiations with the FBU today, the union has agreed to call off the strike action and had agreed to attend a meeting of the Resolution Advisory Panel, an independently-chaired body that can make recommendations to resolve the dispute.

"This is a sensible move," said London's fire authority chairman Brian Coleman: "These strikes have always been unjustified, unnecessary and utterly avoidable."

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: "My intention has always been to reach an agreement on proposals that will make Londoners safer and firefighters safer. Going to an independently-chaired body to help us seek a way forward is a step in the right direction."

The panel will meet on November 16 and, if an agreement is reached, the brigade said the process of re-engaging firefighters on new terms and conditions would be withdrawn.

The union has staged two eight-hour strikes, claiming that firefighters would be sacked if they do not accept a new shift system.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "We have listened to the concerns about public safety, and we have watched the work of the private contractors who are supposed to protect Londoners with mounting concern."

Fire Minister Bob Neill said: "I am glad that sense has prevailed. We have said all along that striking on Bonfire Night was inappropriate.

"I now urge the FBU to go back to the negotiating table and resolve this dispute through reasoned debate."

The union had earlier given an undertaking in the High Court not to hinder or intimidate the emergency crews from AssetCo, if the strike had gone ahead.

London Fire Brigade went to court seeking an injunction but the matter was settled by agreement after a short hearing.