Fire authorities have been told they must pay £4,000 a week for every member of the military they draft as cover for striking firefighters, i can reveal.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is set to ballot for strike action in a dispute over pay and members could walk out early in the New Year.
The Home Office has written to all of England’s fire services offering them the chance to make a Military Aid to Civil Authorities request – the official forum for asking to draft in troops to do the work of firefighters.
The final decision will be made by the Ministry of Defence, which has asked the Home Office to co-ordinate all such requests rather than having individual authorities submitting them piecemeal.
Fire services were warned that the cost would be around £4,000 per week for every serviceman deployed, the equivalent of £800 per working day.
Local services will also have to provide all training and equipment – but troops will not be allowed to enter burning buildings or attempt to rescue people while on duty, unless they are among the small number of full-time military firefighters.
The chairman of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority said the service would not be able to afford the fees charged by Whitehall for the servicemen. Phil Tye, a Labour councillor in Sunderland, said: “The Government want to make a profit out of striking firefighters – you couldn’t make it up. It’s crazy.
“It doesn’t make economic sense when you can employ resilience staff for a lot, lot less… We’ve already recruited resilience staff as a backup, just in case.”
Sarah Jones, Labour’s shadow minister for policing and fire, said in a Commons debate this week that the Home Office’s stance would go down like “a bucket of sick” with workers. She added: “I have heard anecdotally that the Army is not keen on it either, because last time this happened, a lot of soldiers were lost to the fire sector, with people joining the fire service.”
Matt Wrack of the FBU said: “The way to provide a decent and safe fire and rescue service is through fairly paid, properly trained firefighters. Governments and fire employers are responsible for properly staffing their fire services. This is money that could and should go on paying firefighters and control staff properly.”
The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.