London’s fire commissioner has been criticised after recommending that 13 fire engines currently held in reserve are axed to help meet budget cuts.
Managers at the London Fire Brigade withdrew the appliances from day-to-day service in August 2013 to ensure that private contractors had sufficient equipment to provide emergency fire cover during strikes.
Earlier this year the Fire Brigades Union and LFB struck a deal which would’ve seen the engines returned to fire stations in return for the FBU promising to provide enough notice of strikes that they could be handed over to contractors.
However that deal was suspended after Mayor Boris Johnson ordered fire commissioner Ron Dobson and the capital’s fire authority to draw up budget plans which included axing the withheld engines.
Papers setting out the Mayor’s decision said fire deaths have been cut in half over the last five years and that he was happy with the Brigade’s performance and response times during the engines’ absence.
According to the papers, this performance meant “there is a strong argument to say that the removal of the 13 appliances would represent maintenance of the current level of available frontline resources rather than any diminution of those resources.”
In a report to be considered later this week, Mr Dobson says the LFB “does not need the 13 pumps currently removed from service to meet its attendance standards” and recommends that authority members agree to their disposal.
Members of the authority are appointed by the Mayor but must reflect the political makeup of the capital meaning there is an non-Conservative majority on the body which could reject the Commissioner’s proposals.
If this happens it’s likely the Mayor would use his power to overrule the authority which was bestowed on him in 2008 by the previous Labour government.
Two years ago the Mayor used the same power to overrule the fire authority to order the closure of 10 fire stations and the axing 14 fire engines in order to balance the brigade’s finances following grant cuts.
He’s since used it on a number of occasions, a factor behind the Government’s recent proposal to axe the fire authority and hand direct control of the Brigade to the Mayor.
Commenting on the Commissioner’s recommendation Ian Leahair, the FBU’s executive council member for London, said: “Axing another 13 appliances just a year after closing 10 stations is reckless and dangerous.
“Response times are up across half of London, and people are dying because the brigade isn’t getting to them quickly enough.
“It’s high time Mr Dobson starting speaking out about the threat of cuts, just as police and army chiefs have done recently.”