Fire Brigades Union calls for ‘mass movement of resistance’ against anti-strikes bill – live


Fire Brigades Union calls for ‘mass movement of resistance’ against anti-strikes bill

The anti-strikes bill being published today is aimed particularly at firefighters. Fire and rescue is one of the areas where minimum service levels will definitely be set; in other areas, the government says mandatory MSLs will just be a last resort, because it is hoping the voluntary agreements can be reached. (See 9.21am.)

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the bill was a “shameful attack” on democratic rights and he called for a “mass movement of resistance” against it. He said:

This represents one of the most shameful attacks on the democratic rights and liberties of working people in decades …

This is an attack on all workers – including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic.

It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack.

Key events

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Shapps says he wasn’t to blame for Boris Johnson being airbrushed out of picture he posted on Twitter

At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson was asked to justify Grant Shapps’ decision to airbrush Boris Johnson out of a picture he posted on Twitter related to the satellite space launch from Cornwall. The spokesperson did not accept that this was an example of “Stalinist revisionism”. But he also admitted he had not seen the pictures and, in response to a further question saying the government was supposed to be opposed to online disinformation, the spokesperson said he would look into the matter.

This is from the BBC’s Ione Wells.

Grant Shapps appears to have now deleted a tweet that had deleted the former PM Boris Johnson from a photograph of the two of them… https://t.co/HPEUjnFc3D pic.twitter.com/04iSLRGZu0

— Ione Wells (@ionewells) January 10, 2023

According to Noa Hoffman from the Sun, Shapps says he used the picture without knowing that Johnson had been airbrushed out.

NEW A source close to Grant Shapps said: “Grant wasn’t aware anyone had edited the picture. He removed it as soon as it was pointed out. Obviously he wouldn’t endorse anyone rewriting history by removing the former PM from a picture. He was proud to serve in Boris’ Government”

— Noa Hoffman (@hoffman_noa) January 10, 2023

No 10 declines to say what proportion of union members would have to keep working during strikes under new law

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson would not say what proportion of a union’s membership would have to be working during a strike under the government’s minimum service levels legislation. He said the government would consult on this, and it would vary from sector to sector.

But, echoing what Grant Shapps said on his media round this morning (see 9.21am), the spokesperson said that the government was hoping unions would agree minimum service levels voluntarily, instead of having to have them imposed by statute. He said:

What this legislation aims to do is when, should unions progress with strike action and then should those unions not agree to set safe working levels, as we have seen some unions do – the RCN is a good example where they took a responsible step – then this acts as a safety net to provide that minimum level of safety to the public.

At 12.30pm Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, is asking an urgent question about the implementation of the the Windrush lessons learned review. The UQ has been prompted by the story by my colleagues Amelia Gentleman and Rajeev Syal last week saying some of the recommendations have been abandoned.

After the UQ, at around 1.15pm, Grant Shapps, the business secretary, will make a Commons statement about his anti-strikes bill.

‘Government inaction’ has contributed to many of 25,000 excess deaths since summer, says Tony Blair’s thinktank

Government inaction has contributed to some of the 25,000 excess deaths in England and Wales since the summer, Tony Blair’s thinktank has said today.

It said many of these deaths “could have been avoided” if the government had done more to prepare for the winter crisis.

This morning the Office for National Statistics published its regular weekly death figures for England and Wales. It says that 9,517 deaths were registered in the week ending 30 December, and that this was 1,592 more than the five-year average for this time of year. These deaths are classified as excess deaths. The ONS says:

The number of deaths was above the five-year average in private homes (36.9% above, 684 excess deaths), hospitals (14.8% above, 537 excess deaths), care homes (20.4% above; 371 excess deaths) and other settings (0.2% above, 1 excess death).

Excess deaths in England and Wales
Excess deaths in England and Wales. Photograph: ONS

In response, the Tony Blair Institute issued this statement from Dr Martin Carkett, a lead health expert at the thinktank. He said:

ONS figures released today show there were a further 1,592 excess deaths in England and Wales in the final week of 2022, above the five-year average. In total, there have been more than 25,000 excess deaths since the summer, many of which could have been avoided. This is the human cost of government inaction in the face of an entirely foreseeable crisis.

As part of its future of Britain project, the thinktank published a report in the summer on what could be done to avert a winter crisis in the NHS. Carkett said:

We set out 12 recommendations for government to take to focus leadership, minimise demand on the service, improve patient flow and efficiency and maximise capacity. And we called on the then PM to set up a winter crisis taskforce and confirm additional funding early to relieve pressure on hospitals.

While the government have taken forward some of these proposals, there is more that must be done now if we’re going to turn the tide, including extending free Covid-19 and flu vaccination to all over-18s.

In the longer-term the government needs to end this cycle of crisis by fully harnessing the possibilities of technology and moving faster on preventative care.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said that between 300 and 500 people a week could be dying unnecessarily because of the crisis in A&E departments.

But in his interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, when he was asked about this claim, Rishi Sunak said the NHS itself did not recognise those numbers and that he would “be careful” about relying on them.

NEU teachers’ union says it has not ruled out strike over exam period

The National Education Union, which is currently balloting its members on strike action in England and Wales, has not ruled out teachers going on strike over the exam period.

Asked if this was a possibility, Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, told Sky News this morning:

We don’t want to strike during the exam period. But nothing is ruled out.

If there were exams on, then teachers are preparing the children for those exams for a long period beforehand. You can have a strike on an exam day and not disrupt the exams.

In truth, though, we’ve never done that before. So, it would be quite a big step. We don’t want to take it but I’m saying at this point that we’re not ruling anything out.

Courtney said that, for the union to call of its strike, the government would have open serious talks about a compromise pay offer. He said:

We will stop … if there are talks that we judge to be serious, where the government is actually intending to make a move, not some dog and pony show where it’s just them trying to present themselves to the media as talking.

Nearly half of people in London hold the highest level of qualification, PA Media reports. PA says:

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed the regions in England and Wales with the highest proportion of people with no qualifications, as well as the areas with the most degree-educated residents.

More than one in five (21.1%) residents in the West Midlands – one million people – hold no qualifications, figures show.

Data from the 2021 census suggests the region with the highest percentage of the population with Level 4 or above qualifications – the highest level of qualification – was London with 46.7%.

Fire Brigades Union calls for ‘mass movement of resistance’ against anti-strikes bill

The anti-strikes bill being published today is aimed particularly at firefighters. Fire and rescue is one of the areas where minimum service levels will definitely be set; in other areas, the government says mandatory MSLs will just be a last resort, because it is hoping the voluntary agreements can be reached. (See 9.21am.)

Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the bill was a “shameful attack” on democratic rights and he called for a “mass movement of resistance” against it. He said:

This represents one of the most shameful attacks on the democratic rights and liberties of working people in decades …

This is an attack on all workers – including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic.

It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack.

But Grant Shapps, the business secretary, was less happy on LBC to defend another newspaper front page.

Based on what Unite said it was told by Steve Barclay, the health secretary, in his meeting yesterday with unions about the strikes, the Daily Mirror says health workers were told to work harder if they wanted a pay rise.

Tuesday’s Mirror: Work HARDER #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMirror #Mirror pic.twitter.com/ZJwd7iCXhW

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 9, 2023

Shapps said the Mirror was reporting a “one-sided description of the conversation”. He went on:

Nurses work incredibly hard, and actually because they are working incredibly hard and been under so much pressure through Covid nurses and, indeed, NHS workers, were the only part of the public service who got a pay rise last year when all the pay was being frozen.

Unite complained because Barclay raised the need for productivity improvements in the talks. But improving productivity is not necessarily the same as working longer hours.

Shapps defends hospitals putting patients in cabins in car parks as means of dealing with A&E overcrowding crisis

In an interview with LBC this morning Grant Shapps, the business secretary, defended the NHS’s decision to put temporary cabins in car parks for patients as a means of dealing with the A&E overcrowding service.

Yesterday the government said it was spending £50m in England “to expand hospital discharge lounges and ambulance hubs”. The Times says in practice this means some patients being put in cabins in hospital car parks.

🔺 NEW: NHS patients face being treated in temporary cabins set up in hospital car parks under plans to tackle the crisis in the health service https://t.co/TYkly1A46m

— The Times and The Sunday Times (@thetimes) January 9, 2023

In their splash story Kat Lay and Chris Smyth report:

NHS patients face being treated in temporary cabins set up in hospital car parks under plans to tackle the crisis in the health service …

[Steve Barclay, the health secretary, told MPs] the government would now fund “more physical capacity in and around emergency departments”, and said that temporary structures could provide this “in weeks not months”.

He said trusts could use their “discretion” on how to use the buildings to ease A&E pressures, which could include the creation of new “discharge lounges”. Such buildings are most likely to be set up in hospital car parks.

Tuesday’s Times: Overloaded NHS turns to cabins in car parks #TomorrowsPapersToday #TheTimes #Times pic.twitter.com/XOZB8TKipX

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 9, 2023

Asked about the story on LBC, Shapps said:

I’m in favour of the NHS doing whatever it needs to do to clear those backlogs. If that means temporary, modular, whatever, or using clinics closer to people or whatever else is required, I mean, for heaven’s sake, let’s get on and do those things.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary. arriving in Downing Street for cabinet this morning.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary. arriving in Downing Street for cabinet this morning. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

TUC urges all MPs to vote against what it calls ‘sack key workers bill’

The TUC has described the government’s anti-strike law as a “sack key wokers bill” and restated its claim that it will be “almost certainly illegal”. In a statement Paul Nowak, the new TUC general secretary, said:

This legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.

That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.

Conservative ministers have gone from clapping key workers to sacking key workers. They seem more interested in scheming up new draconian restrictions on the right to strike than addressing the real concerns of public sector workers.

Let’s be clear. If passed, this bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes.

That’s why MPs must do the right thing and reject this cynical ‘sack key workers bill’.

Paul Nowak.
Paul Nowak. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Shapps says he hopes powers in new anti-strike bill will not have to be used

And here are some more lines from Grant Shapps’s interviews this morning about the strikes (minimum service levels) bill.

  • Shapps said that he hoped many of the powers in the bill would not actually be used. As the government explained in its briefing last week, the government will set minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services. But in the other sectors (other areas of health, education, nuclear decommissioning and border security), although the government will legislate to give itself the power to impose minimum service levels, it will in the first instance try to negotiate voluntary agreements for these with unions. Shapps told the Today programme:

What I’m going to do in this legislation is take the primary power, if parliament grants it, but then in secondary – so this is a further stage of consultation if you like – allow each different area of public service to consult and decide how to actually implement this and over what period of time.

The ideal outcome would be to have the power but never need to use it, because I think anyone listening to this knows it’s reasonable to ask and expect, for example, the ambulance unions to agree to some sort of national level in return for what we fully support which is the right to strike.

He said, in the current dispute, the Royal College of Nursing agreed at a national level minimum safety levels. But he said the same did not happen with unions representing ambulance staff. (Those unions insist that minimum safety standards were agreed before their last strike, but on a local, case-by-case basis.)

  • He dismissed claims that the bill could increase the chances of nurses being sacked for going on strike. He told Times Radio:

This sort of talk that somebody will be sacked is no more true than it would be under any employment contract and that’s always the case when people have to stick to the law.

  • He stressed that the government was not banning strikes in the emergency services (even though this is what some people were calling for when the bill was being drafted).

Grant Shapps rejects government’s own assessment that anti-strike bill could lead to more strikes

Good morning. Last week the government published details of its planned anti-strike bill, which will require unions to maintain minimum services levels in transport, health, education, fire and rescue, nuclear decommissioning and border security when strikes are taking place. It is highly controversial and today Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is publishing the actual bill.

It is called the strikes (minimum service levels) bill. Ministers have been arguing that it is all about minimum safety levels, but as the title of the bill shows, it is all about minimum service levels – which means it has wider application.

The legislation builds on measures set out in the transport strikes (minimum service levels) bill, which was published during Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership but which never got debated by MPs. (It has been superseded by the new bill.) In an official impact assessment of the Truss bill, the government warned that this measure could lead to “an increased frequency of strikes”. Another risk was unions staging more industrial action just short of a strike, the document said. (Or, in its own words, it said “a further significant unintended consequence of this policy could be the increase in staff taking action short of striking.”)

In an interview on the Today programme this morning, Shapps said he did not accept that the bill would make strikes more likely. When pressed on why the government’s own impact assessment said the opposite, he played down the significance of the document. He said:

Well, impact assessments do the job of, if you like, having a look all around and seeing, what would be the risks, what are the opportunities and so they often say these things.

He also claimed that legislation of this kind worked effectively in other countries.

When it was put to him that the government was ignoring its own assessment of what these laws would do, Shapps said the government had “taken note of that research and looked at how we can best introduce those measures”.

I will post more from his morning interview round shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

9.45am: Andrew Griffith, a Treasury minister, gives evidence to the Treasury committee on the cryptocurrency industry.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, gives a speech on Labour plans intended to get more older people, and people with medical conditions, back into work.

11.30am: Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy PM, takes justice questions in the Commons.

12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, visits an energy research centre ahead of the publication of the Scottish government’s energy strategy.

At some point today the government is publishing its strikes (minimum service levels) bill. And Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is visiting a 111 call centre.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]





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