EMERGENCY workers at the home of Britain's nuclear weapons on the Clyde are set to strike over "major safety concerns" after managers slashed firefighter numbers.

Action has been previously been given the go-ahead following a ballot of workers after managers proceeded with cuts to eight posts from the specialist fire safety crew at HM Naval Base Clyde, a reduction in strength of 15 per cent, with the a union describing it as an "an accident waiting to happen".

Unite members working for outsourcing services firm Capita Business Services will now start strike action from Tuesday in a dispute over cuts to fire and rescue crew levels, and a lack of consultation.

The Unite members on the Clyde employed by Capita, who provide onsite fire cover for both Faslane and Coulport naval bases, have been involved in an overtime ban since September 16 but are now stepping up their action to include discontinuous strike action.

The six-hour strike action will take place on Tuesday and Thursday and on October,26 and 28.

The cuts were confirmed to staff earlier this year by Capita which won the contract in 2020 for fire response services from the Ministry of Defence and insists the cuts would actually improve safety.

The union Unite Scotland hasslammed the decision taken by Capita management in consultation with the Ministry of Defence to press ahead with cuts to fire crews alongside the lack of promised new fire vehicles and updated equipment.

The trade union representing around 45 fire safety crew workers has made repeated representations to Capita management which have raised ‘more concerns’, in addition to those around staffing levels.

Debbie Hutchings, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s members are stepping up their industrial action this week at Coulport and Faslane due to the ongoing concerns around safety. This dispute is about our members not being given the assurances and guarantees over their health and safety in fire response situations, and the training which has been promised to cover such responses.”

“We have been in dialogue with Capita since their decision to press ahead with cutting the fire response services at the bases, but more concerns have been raised throughout this process. Unite remains open to dialogue with Capita but our members have simply had enough and feel that their employer has not yet done enough. The workers will be taking strike action in the interests of their safety, and the safety of the public.”

HeraldScotland:

Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde is the navy's headquarters in Scotland and is best known as Britain's nuclear weapons base, in the form of a fleet of four Vanguard-class submarines equipped with Trident nuclear missiles and five other Astute and Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Workers believe the cuts impair the abilities of the onsite fire crews to do their jobs properly, particularly, in relation to incidents that would involve wearing breathing apparatus.

Capita has previously stated that they intend to mitigate safety risks due to the cuts through an investment in new technology to reduce fire risk".

But workers have said they are not aware of any new technology which would address ongoing safety concerns.

Capita has said that the impact to personnel was "minimal".

It is understood Capita are set to seek local authority support from nearby fire stations in an effort to 'back fill' the specialist safety response.

Capita said local authority fire and rescue service cover has "always been provided at these sites and "those arrangements have not changed".

But Unite has argued that the ‘back-up’ service would be difficult to deliver due to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's current policy regarding radiation incidents and incidents onboard submarines.

They say it means that SFRS staff who attend incidents may be unable to deliver the same firefighting and rescue actions that the current onsite specialist firefighters are trained to deliver.

The union says the fire service also does not have the statutory right to enter premises like Coulport and Faslane.

They say that in order to inspect and plan for a fire scenario, the service need the authority from the Ministry of Defence to inspect premises.

Staff have also raised further safety concerns around Royal Navy search and rescue procedures, and how that in practice works with Capita or local authority search and rescue operations.

A Capita spokesman said:   “We are disappointed by Unite’s further escalation of industrial action regarding MOD-approved changes that have been made to resourcing levels at Faslane and Coulport. We have a range of contingency options agreed with Defence Fire and Rescue and the Royal Navy’s Clyde leadership team which will ensure the delivery of fire service operations is maintained.   

“Our recommendations to increase or decrease resourcing levels at any MOD site have to be endorsed by Defence Fire and Rescue’s Chief Fire Officer, and ultimately approved by the site’s leadership team.  Any such decision would follow on from a thorough review of fire risks.  In this case, our proposed changes were also validated through the conduct of 4 confirmatory exercises and a lengthy process of scrutiny by the base leadership team. 

“Capita is working with Defence Fire and Rescue to modernise the MOD’s fire and rescue capability. Our £85 million investment in new firefighting vehicles, digital technology, and enhanced training facilities is improving firefighting capabilities and reducing risk to our firefighters, MOD personnel and critical military assets.”