In January 2014 Boris Johnson forced through the closure of 10 London fire stations and the axing of 14 fire engines and over 500 firefighters; a move which pushed up fire engine response times across the capital.
Not content with forcing the closure of ten London fire stations, making it longer for fire engines to reach incidents, now we learn Boris Johnson is planning another backdoor round of cuts. Despite promising at the time that there would be no more front line cuts to the fire brigade; he is now trying to force another 13 fire engines out of service all in the name of cost cutting. Obviously we need to keep costs down but if the potentially disastrous consequence is increased risk to the lives of Londoners, is it a price worth paying?
Writing to the London Fire Authority, Boris Johnson said that “the question has arisen as to whether the 13 appliances are in fact required by the LFB,” at the same time ordering the Commissioner to draw up plans to scrap the appliances and lay off almost 100 more fire fighters.
The 13 fire engines in question were previously removed from active service after the Mayor ordered they be reserved for potential strike cover. Bizarrely the Mayor’s move to axe the fire engines entirely comes despite the fact the Fire Brigade and Fire Brigades Union (FBU) are close to agreement on a plan that would see the engines returned to use. Let’s be clear, preventing these engines returning to service won’t save a penny, but it could cost lives.
The Mayor will undoubtedly point to the decrease in fire deaths over the past year as a justification for yet more cuts. The fall in the number of Londoners dying as a result of fires is a massive achievement. Whilst it is surely a testament to the bravery, professionalism and dedication of London’s firefighters as well as a result of increasing efficacy of technology and preventative work, there is also an element of chance to these things.
Relying on only twelve months of figures does not allow us to draw a reasonable view of the long term impact of the cuts. We know that response times are up across the capital. We know that fewer firefighters mean less time to devote to preventative and education work. We know that with fire, every second counts as they can spread and escalate in moments. The Mayor’s approach is overly simplistic to say the least.
Up until now we have been very lucky that the Mayor’s cuts have not led to any serious incidents. Axing yet more fire engines could have potentially disastrous consequences and will further undermine the fire brigade’s ability to protect Londoners, particularly with the capital’s population soaring to record levels.
Today’s warning from ambulance workers and unions that the Ambulance service wouldn’t be able to support a major incident shows just how seriously our public services are being cut. We need to stand firm and hold Boris Johnson to his word that our fire service will not be put in the same position by yet more major cuts to frontline services.
Fiona Twycross AM is a Londonwide Assembly Member and Labour’s London Assembly Fire spokesperson