Westminster fails to adopt fair pension reform

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Scotland will suffer unfair pension reforms despite the majority of Scots MPs opposing bill amendments in Westminster.

The House of Commons debated amendments by the House of Lords on the Public Service Pensions Bill based on findings of Lord Hutton’s Pension Reform Report which recommended a lower retirement age for “uniformed services” such a fire fighters, police and the Armed Forces.

The report however failed to include Defence Fire and Rescue Service fire fighters and MOD police officers, leading to the prospect that Fire Fighters and MOD police officers would still be required to work in physically demanding jobs until the age of 68.

Lord Hutton, the author of the pension reform report, stated that if he had known of the MoD Fire and Police Services he would have specifically included them as uniformed services in his final report, giving them equal status on pension age.

The Fire Brigades Union is opposed to the changes, saying that since the plan includes provision for fitness tests, many MOD fire fighters could be at risk of losing their jobs.  The Union claims that opportunities for redeployment of such staff, as suggested by the Government, do not exist.

In a letter which the Union is asking its members to send their local MP, the FBU says:

“The ability to redeploy firefighters when they were no longer able to achieve the fitness standards was the logic behind the last government’s plans when it introduced an NPA of 60 for new entrants in 2006. The FBU has shown that redeployment opportunities do not exist, which is accepted by all parties.”

The FBU also states that up to two thirds of MOD fire fighters currently in service are likely to fail physical fitness tests once they attain the age of 55.  The union says that women fire fighters are likely to be disproportionately affected.

Scotland’s sole Conservative MP, David Mundell, and the Lib Dems Danny Alexander, Malcolm Bruce, Menzies Campbell, Alistair Carmichael, Scotland Secretary Michael Moore, Robert Smith and Jo Swinson, all voted with the Government.  Other Scottish MPs voted against, although Labour’s Alistair Darling was not present for the vote.

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“The Pension Bill vote is a further example of Scotland suffering from legislation it does not want. This pension reform is unfair, and for that reason 83 % of Scottish MPs voted against it.

“This was an important vote for those concerned – yet Alistair Darling failed to turn up and instead played spokesperson to George Osborne.

“It is inconsistent that the Public Service Pensions Bill sets a normal retirement age of 60 for uniformed services, including the Armed Forces, civilian police and fire fighters, and yet links their counterparts in defence to the state retirement age, projected to be at least 68.

“The House of Lords passed an amendment that would’ve ended the discrepancy of a different retirement age, providing equality for Defence Police and Fire and Rescue Services who play an important role on the front line in the UK and overseas.

“The UK government have failed to make a case for higher pension age for uniformed services in the defence sector; they need to follow the spirit of Lord Hutton’s changes to this discrepancy by supporting the Lords amendment.”