Mayor Boris Johnson has overruled the capital’s fire authority and insisted that a consultation on a new London safety plan, including the closure of 12 fire stations, goes ahead.
Proposals to close the stations and axe 18 engines form part of the London Fire Brigade’s efforts to meet £45m of budget cuts imposed by Central Government and City Hall.
Stations earmarked for closure include Westminster, Southwark and Knightsbridge.
The closures have been criticised as “reckless and wrong” by the London Fire Brigade Union and have also been criticised by local councils including Westminster.
Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson has insisted the plans will not lead to a lower level of fire cover and has repeatedly sought to highlight that the number of fires in the capital is at a 10 year low.
Other measures contained in the plan include recovering a greater share of the Brigade’s costs when it assists brigades in neighbouring counties, charging persistent false alarm offenders and increasing efforts to encourage building owners to put in place in-house lift rescue arrangements.
Earlier this month, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat members of the London Fire Emergency and Planning Authority (LFEPA) approved a consultation on all aspects of the plan other than the proposed closures.
Following the vote the Mayor indicated he would issue a Mayoral Directive overruling the decision.
Called on by Assembly Members to provide more funding for the fire service and avoid the closures, the Mayor had previously said LFEPA’s budget was a matter for the Authority’s board.
Signing the Directive, the Mayor said: “It’s right that tough decisions have to be made in times of economic uncertainty. History shows the difficulties organisations face when they don’t meet their financial responsibilities.
“With 100 fire stations and over 150 fire engines, I am completely resolute that any agreed proposals will still be able to deal with large scale or multiple emergencies.”
Addressing criticism of the cuts, Mr Johnson added: “There have been some outrageous claims that the Fire Commissioner and I would put lives of Londoners at risk, so I have directed the plans to go for consultation as planned because the option presented by the Authority is unfit for purpose and unsustainable in budget terms.”
Navin Shah, Labour’s Fire Spokesperson on the London Assembly and an LFEPA member, accused the Mayor of “trying to hide behind his fire officers” in defending the proposals.
Mr Shah has called on the Mayor “to think again and look at reallocating resources from the wider Greater London Authority budget.”
Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Stephen Knight called the Mayor’s decision to overrule LFEPA “a sad day for democracy and an even sadder day for the safety of Londoners.”
He added: “The Mayor has immense financial freedom and could easily decide to provide the modest extra funding needed to ensure that no fire stations would have to close. Instead, he is putting a seven pence a week cut in the council tax before the safety of Londoners.”
Green Party AM Darren Johnson said: “All public services are being hit hard by cuts in Government spending but the Mayor is making a bad situation worse by insisting on council tax cuts as well. While people may get 7p off their council tax bill each week, this will leave a massive hole in the Fire Brigade’s long-term finances. If we were to increase Council Tax by a few pence each year rather than decrease it, however, the Fire Station closures would be completely unnecessary.
“That is why I am calling on the Mayor to increase council tax by 2%. These station closures and staff cuts are unnecessary and the majority of the fire authority regard them as potentially dangerous, which is why I deeply regret that the previous government decided in 2007 to give the mayor this new power to override fire authority decisions.”
The FBU’s regional secretary for London, Paul Embery, said: “These cuts are reckless and wrong, and it is an outrage that the mayor is going against the democratic decision of his own fire authority and the wishes of most Londoners. The mayor makes the absurd claim that these cuts would somehow improve public safety. But the London Fire Brigade’s own figures reveal that the cuts would result in increased response times for nearly five million Londoners, with only a fifth of the capital’s population seeing an improvement.”
Green party AM Darren Johnson said: “The Mayor won’t raise council tax below inflation to save our fire stations, even though that would only cost households around £10 a year. But he is happy to whack up fares above inflation to pay for non-essential projects like the New Bus for London, costing an average household an extra £60 a year.
”He is putting a council tax gimmick before public safety.”