Hands Off Our Pensions – Government Releases Review Of Pension Age

Dear 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.

Key Findings

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.

FBU Involvement

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.

Current Employees

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.

It recommends:

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.

Future Employees

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.

Protection

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.

Next Steps

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.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

Matt Wrack

General Secretary

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