Firefighters during the 1960s faced a decade of discontent, with widespread frustration among rank-and-file members over the long-running battle for decent pay.
In the wake of this, Sir Charles Cunningham, who had been permanent under-secretary to the Home Office, was tasked with what was to be a significant analysis and evaluation of the work of firefighters.
Increasing unrest among firefighters had led to a greater awareness of a growing crisis within the fire service. The inquiry noted:
“The nature of the fireman’s occupation makes it difficult for him, after a period of time, to change it, so that discontent which might in other occupations be reflected in the rate of premature resignations may tend to fester within the fire service and, at the extreme, find expression in militant action, such as has occurred in the last year or two in some brigades.”
The FBU, in its evidence to the inquiry, highlighted the frustration of firefighters at how little employers valued their work and, on pay, their refusal to “introduce a formula which would give that valuation some degree of permanence.” Increasing workloads also formed part of the union’s submission: there had been a fourfold increase in fire calls over the last 20 years.
Part of the inquiry’s task was to compare and contrast the firefighter’s job with a range of others from semi-skilled to manual labour. The review concluded:
“It is the element of risk and the demand for courage which set the fireman’s job apart from others.”
Noting that the nature of the work of firefighters was changing, the inquiry would recommend a re-evaluation of their role within two years. It also recommended successive increases in pay, and reductions in working hours down to a 44-hour week. As a result employers were pressured to change their attitudes and put much greater value on their work, and to begin to devise a pay formula that reflected this.