The Grenfell Tower block fire wasn’t even fully extinguished before armies of social media warriors – thoughtlessly retweeted by some politicians – were working overtime to apportion blame.
Predictably given the large scale cuts to the London Fire Brigade’s funding in recent years, many decided that Boris Johnson was the main culprit because it was he who forced through the axing of fire engines and fire stations.
In the weeks and months ahead, inquests and inquiries will investigate the evidence and decide which individuals and organisations have played a part in allowing this disaster to occur.
But people rushing to blame the former Mayor should read the findings of the review commissioned by his Labour successor last year.
Conducted by Anthony Mayer, who headed City Hall under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, the review considered the budget cuts and what they meant for the London Fire Brigade’s ability to protect London.
Available in full and unredacted online, Mayer’s report is no whitewash and fairly makes the point that the Brigade’s ability to cope with a reduced budget and fewer resources is at least partly due to a longterm downward trend in the number of fire deaths in the capital.
It accepts union concerns that some response times have increased as a result of the cuts and warns Mayor Khan against any further reductions in funding.
But, and this is the part those seeking to blame Johnson ahead of any official finding should heed, it also makes no case for reversing the cuts.
Mayer’s first recommendation finds:
“There is currently no persuasive case to increase LFB’s budget by diverting resources from elsewhere in the GLA Group or increasing the precept. Perhaps more importantly, there should be no additional reductions to LFB’s budget that would worsen the £23.5 million budget gap inherited from Mayor Johnson. The fire station closures, reductions in fire appliances and cuts to firefighter numbers introduced by LSP5 should be embedded by LFB.”
In this context “embedded” means that the cuts should be considered the new norm.
Earlier in the report Mayer also observed:
“As with any emergency service, LFB should be assessed by the capacity it might require in an emergency, as well as what it does every day. There are a number of demand challenges facing LFB, including the criticality of managing major incidents such as the 2005 Staples Corner fire, and multi-sited events such as the St Jude’s storms in 2013, the 7/7 bombings and the 2011 London riots, alongside the daily demand on services.
“These resource intensive incidents are rare but they are high impact in terms of damage to property, the economy, loss of life or social cohesion. LFB’s capacity to manage these events appears to be sufficient, as demonstrated by each of these examples, where the LFB has performed well despite the considerable resource demands.”
Twitter users have such a remarkable ability to become ‘experts’ in any field at 30 seconds notice that they could be mistaken for TV’s Joe 90. But in this case a widely respected, impartial voice has already considered whether budget cuts left LFB unable to do its job and decided they did not.
It’s inevitable that Brigade’s response times (crews arrived at Grenfell within their 6 minute target time) and methods will come under new scrutiny during the inquiries into the Grenfell tragedy.
But from what I saw on the news there’s not a shred of reason to think the Brigade’s response will be found wanting – the firefighters who entered the block are genuine heroes and they and their leadership team, along with the other blue light services who responded yesterday, did their jobs with distinction.
Any recommendations and learnings which emerge from the coming reviews will, as they were after 7/7, be implemented.
But unless the social media crowd has fresh knowledge unavailable to Mayer, screaming ‘this is Boris’s fault’ serves no-one and ignores the only evidence we currently have to hand.