Brian Coleman - Nowhere to hide, and no desire to
Chairman of the London Fire Authority and Barent and Camden assembly member speaks out on everything from the FBU to local Lib Dems
BRIAN Coleman has never been one to shy away from controversy but for the last few months he has had little option to hide away.
As Chairman of the London Fire Authority he is the man leading the charge to bring shift changes to the fire brigade – a move which has been met by tough opposition from the FBU and led to several strikes – one narrowly avoided for Bonfire Night. Here we ask him the key questions about his handling of the dispute.
o You recently said you are considering permanently removing the 27 fire engines you put in the hands of private company Asset Co to cover the strike. Is this true?
The dispute is not over by a long way so obviously the engines are still with Asset Co. They will remain there until the dispute’s over but it is meanwhile sensible to look at whether we need them. We have managed without them for a month, they’ve been sitting in a depot in South Ruislip – no one has noticed. We’ve got to save �60million in four years out of the Fire Brigade budget: we’ve got to make savings. We will do a piece of work – a risk based approach on whether we need these things and if we don’t – fine.
o Suggestions have been made that Boris Johnson doesn’t agree with such a move.
There is not a tissue paper between Boris and I. Boris is entirely supportive of moves to make sure the budget balances. It is easier to withdraw an engine than closing a station – it is obvious services have to be reduced just like every other area of local authority activity. These things have to be done.
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o What do you think of the FBU?
The union are a thoroughly unpleasant and nasty lot – they always have been. They are not affiliated with the Labour Party and the stories about bullying and intimidation go right back to the strike in the late 70s. You just have to stand up to thugs and bullies. The vast majority of firefighters are entirely, on a one-to-one level, decent and pleasant individuals.
Most of the union officials, if they had half a brain cell, they’d be dangerous. Most of them are thick, can’t string a sentence together and frankly are incoherent.
We have to break the FBU frankly because they are not a union operating in the interests of their members and certainly not taxpayers as has been proved time and time again. They’ve been a block to modernisation right along the line.
They will fail in the end because neither I nor the fire authority, nor the Mayor of London nor this government is going to give way to this kind of intimidation.
Only the head bangers – Jeremy Corbyn, John Cryer and surprisingly the very nice Kate Hoey – belong to the FBU support group in parliament.
o Are the shift changes a precursor to job losses?
That is complete piffle. What they’re worried about is if their night shift is three hours shorter they will have three hours less in bed and won’t be so refreshed for their second jobs – that is what it is all about. No-one is losing their job, no-one is working longer hours or losing any pay – I think they are damned lucky frankly.
o Are job losses on the horizon?
Inevitably, but hopefully not with compulsory redundancies. Inevitably there will be job losses in the fire service, Transport for London and everywhere. But we’ve got 260 firefighters who can retire tomorrow on full pension so we can do it by natural wastage over the next four years.
o Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson described you as “addicted to conflict”. Are you?
What I am addicted to is getting value for money for taxpayers and modernising the fire service and getting rid of the practices that should have gone years ago. The FBU have never wanted to work with me or the former Labour chair. Why would I want to wind them up? My presence alone winds them up.
o It has been reported that you have received a hamper and been taken for dinner by Asset Co. Does this compromise your neutrality?
That is absurd. The Labour Party signed a contract with Asset Co back in 2001. The authority has an ongoing relationship there and I liaise with Asset Co and a lot of suppliers. Do they really think I am bought by a portion of shepherds pie or a jar of marmalade from Harvey Nics? What planet are they on.
o Are you paid too much? (Bloggers have made a point of totalling Cllr Coleman’s payment for his two elected roles – making a figure of just over �100,000).
I am paid less than the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
Andrew Dismore – Coleman’s possible Labour rival for Barnet and Camden Assembly seat:
“I am delighted if it is Andrew ‘two homes’ Dismore. He’s not very good at losing and he better get used to it if he’s standing against me. The Labour Party rarely put up credible candidates against me.”
“He sits there like Banquo’s ghost. Boris has oomph, vigour – he’s exciting and edgy. Ken’s just sad and tired.”
The Liberal Democrats:
“The Lib Dems are a complete busted flush across North West London. They are finished. I can’t see Sarah Teather (pictured, top) surviving the next election and Lynne Featherstone (right) is entirely light-weight. God knows how she manages as a minister.”
Most have been there far too long and have lost interest in it. Len Duvall is bored out of his mind, John Biggs is a twisted sad little man and Navin Shah (right) is a joke.