Tag Archives: London Fire Brigade

Grenfell Tower: A Question Of Management

The tragic, but avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale, West London has raised a number of questions about the management of council properties, the quality of building materials and governmental oversight. We don’t know the actual cause of the fire as investigations have yet to be conducted. One thing is for certain, council tenants deserve a better deal and they’re not getting it.

Ask most council tenants who they want to manage their housing and they’ll almost always tell you “the council”. I used to work in housing and I spoke to many tenants, some of them were faced with having a Tenant (or Resident) Management Organisation (TMO/RMO) or ALMO (Arm’s Length Management Organisation) forced upon them. When I used to work for Lambeth, one estate, the Blenheim Gardens Estate was on the brink of being transferred. The tenants were being promised all sorts by the council and many of these promises came to nothing.  There are plans to transfer the estate to an Housing Association.

TMOs, RMOs and ALMOs tend to be a stepping stone to an eventual stock transfer to a housing association like Peabody, or a private property management company like Pinnacle. In either case, tenants get a raw deal. They may discover that the terms of their tenancies have changed or the quality of estate management declines.

Grenfell Tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea TMO. Like the rest of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing stock it was transferred to the TMO in 1996.  The Grenfell Action Group have made numerous complaints to KCTMO about fire safety, which have all been ignored. The block itself has recently been refurbished at a cost of £8.7 million, but many believe that the quality of materials used for the building’s cladding are responsible for the blaze.

The Tory government  also failed to carry out a fire safety review of tower blocks. The minister responsible, Gavin Barwell, apparently “sat on the report”. The Independent reports:

Gavin Barwell failed to give the review the green light during his tenure as housing minister, despite it already having waited for years.

The fire expert behind a report calling for the desperately needed safety appraisal, said he had spoken to Mr Barwell earlier this year and the then-minister told him no decision on the review had been taken.

The bottom line is that councils will usually ignore the concerns of tenants in order to save money. Kensington & Chelsea Council is Tory-controlled, so it comes as no surprise that they transferred the management of their entire housing stock to KCTMO, who have been described as a ‘mini mafia’. Scum sucking parasites is what they are.

The Tories are no friends of council housing and Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, Harry Phibbs, sees tower blocks like Grenfell Tower as “vertical slums”.

During his time as mayor, Boris Johnson, closed fire stations. He was warned of the potential consequences.

The Tories must also take a large measure of the blame for failing to act when they had a chance, and for the cuts they’ve imposed on local authorities in the name of deficit reduction.

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The London firefighters strike: a look at what the Tory press is saying

I am 100% behind the Fire Brigades Union in their strike action. The change in working patterns will have a devastating effect on their lives and those of their families. This week we have been treated to story after story about how this strike is “unnecessary” and that calling a strike for November 5 is “irresponsible” even “dangerous”. But it is only the Tory press, the BBC and Sky which are reporting the strike in this way.

Today, the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday claim that firefighters are commuting from places as far afield as Spain to do their shifts in London. The Telegraph story is threadbare. There is no explanation as to why some firefighters live outside of London; the suggestion here is that it is bad.

Thousands more live outside the capital because of their “archaic” working patterns.

The firemen can live hundreds of miles from London because they work three shifts, followed by four days off.

The Mail on the other hand has provided a handy table.

In both cases, there is no mention of their alleged source for this information. This is a typical hatchet job on striking workers. This is Derbyshire explains why some firefighters have to commute into London,

Fire Brigades Union regional secretary, Joe MacVeigh, said: “We have thousands of firefighters who live outside of London. The vast majority of them cannot afford to live there.

“The extra money is for working in London, not for working and living in London. It’s cheaper to live in Derby and commute than to live in London.”

While most papers have printed stories about the proposed changes, the right wing press led by the Torygraph and the Mail have pursued a smear campaign in the hope that they can tap into memories of the so-called Winter of Discontent (which is often used as a club to beat the unions with). I found this on Bezinga which notes that the London Fire Brigade press office has produced at least one smear story per day.  The Sun produced this piece of scandal on Friday,

Nigel Creary spends his shifts at his Knightsbridge base and takes to the road in his taxi later.

He said: “I’ll be working over Halloween and bonfire night and I should make quite a bit of money.

The article finishes by telling us,

This year, around 170 private contractors will man 27 fire engines.

Where, I wonder, do these “private contractors” come from and how well trained are these scabs?

As I reported weeks ago, this strike is also about the fact that the firefighters face the sack if they refuse to sign the new contracts. It is odd how the Tory press has ignored this rather important fact in its desire to paint all striking workers as “irresponsible” and “greedy”.

This is from the World Socialist Website,

Long before the first strike, the head of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, invoked section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. According to the FBU, on August 11 London Fire Brigade “formally began the legal process of terminating the employment contracts of 5,600 London fire fighters.”

The termination date is set for November 26.

Coleman stated that “firefighters who don’t sign the new contract won’t be re-employed.” He added later, “I could put an advert in the Evening Standard and get 20,000 people applying. London will be totally safe.”

The right to join a trade union and to withdraw one’s labour is a human right. Britain currently has  some of the most draconian labour laws in Europe. The neoliberal argument put forward by the likes of Hayek is that unions merely get in the way of profits and have to be smashed. Hayek was also an admirer of Pinochet’s Chile.

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London’s firefighters set to strike

I’ve  heard that London’s firefighters will face the sack if they don’t agree to changes in working patterns.  According to the New Statesman a ballot for strike action is underway.

The decision to ballot on industrial action short of a strike was taken after negotiations over changes to shift patterns broke down. The commissioner of London Fire Brigade, Ron Dobson, announced he would terminate existing contracts if they do not agree to the reorganisation within three months. “Unless the employer withdraws this threat,” Wrack says, “we will move on to a strike ballot very quickly. But disputes are really the last thing our members want, and we hope there will be a deal.”

There are stories of bullying and intimidation. Matt Wrack the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said,

“All local authority employers have these very nice-sounding policies about treating people with dignity and respect at work, but you don’t always get that when you’re a small workforce.”

At Nowhere Towers we wonder what the London’s Fire Commissioner is playing at. More importantly is this what the government means when it talks about the “Big Society”?

London’s firefighters have until 25 November to sign the new contracts.

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