End may be in sight to nine-month fire dispute

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The Independent Online

An end to the nine-month fire dispute was in sight last night as both sides unofficially endorsed a settlement.

Final talks will take place today but both management and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) indicated that a peace deal was in place, bringing an end to a damaging industrial conflict which has resulted in 15 days of walkouts. After several days of intense negotiation, FBU officials provisionally agreed a 16 per cent pay rise over three years.

The blueprint is expected to be accepted today by the FBU's executive, which will recommend it to the 55,000 members. The prospective settlement will be put out to consultation over the next three weeks, and after that, an emergency national conference will make the final decision.

It is understood that the final document still envisages radical change to the service, but will also offer the FBU an input into decisions made in the future.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, said he was "more confident than ever" that a deal was within sight.

Sir Jeremy added that after prolonged discussions and "tweaking'' of a potential agreement there was now a workable basis for a settlement.

"It's make your mind up time," he claimed.

"It is in their interest and in the interests of the public for us to change the fire service for the better. I hope that by the end of tomorrow we will have reached a position in which both sides take forward a proposal for agreement by our members. I hope we are reaching the end of the road. I'm more confident than ever before.''

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU said he too was committed to finding a solution, and welcomed Sir Jeremy's comments. He said: "The resolution to this long-running dispute lies with a negotiated settlement, the basis of which must recognise the unique contribution that public servants who risk their lives are prepared to make."

Mr Gilchrist added: "We will not stand in the way of modernisation and change, but we will, of course, seek to ensure the highest standards of public protection remain within the fire service.''