Opposition groups on the London Assembly have been branded “comic” and “embarrassing” after failing to agree a response to a Government consultation on changes to the capital’s fire authority.
Although the Mayor sets LFEPA’s budget, the body operates as a standalone authority and is not under Mr Johnson’s direct control. He does however have the power to overrule it in exceptional circumstances.
That power was used for the first time last summer when Mr Johnson directed authority members to consult Londoners over proposals to close fire stations and axe fire engines in the wake of cuts in both City Hall and UK Government grants.
The House of Commons communities and local government select committee last year recommended reforming LFEPA into a Mayoral agency, a move which would make the Mayor responsible for fire services.
Scrutiny of the new body would then become the responsibility of the London Assembly.
Such a move would require primary legislation which is unlikely to be brought forward before next year’s General Election. In the interim, Mr Johnson has asked Ministers to make interim changes which allow him to make more appointments, a proposal opposed by the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat Assembly Members.
On Wednesday AMs were due to discuss their response to the Government’s consultation, but instead passed a non-binding motion calling on the Mayor to “to withdraw the plans with immediate effect”.
Opposition AMs claimed the Mayor’s proposals amounted to “gerrymandering” and accused him of seeking to ignore non-conservative views on the fire service.
A number also claimed the Mayor was trying to undermine their democratic mandate.
The motion, put forward by Labour, called on the Mayor to “work with the Assembly to develop proposals that would provide strong leadership, accountability and democratic representation to improve the provision of the fire and rescue service to Londoners.”
It was passed on a majority vote after winning the support of Green and Liberal Democrat Members.
Tory AM James Cleverly, who is also chair of LFEPA, said no-one was directly elected to sit on the body and suggested the proposals would allow Londoners to hold the Mayor to account for fire-related policy.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cleverly said opponents had “once again failed to engage with these really important issues” and branded the decision not to submit a formal response to the consultation as “embarrassing”.
He added: “Their position is at best confused and at worst hypocritical and opportunistic. The Mayor is elected by Londoners to run London, to claim it is wrong for him to do so is comic.”
Full text of the motion:
“This Assembly notes the Mayor’s desire to change decision-making at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) and, in doing so, to reduce the number of elected members LFEPA by four, replacing them with his appointees.
“This Assembly believes the Mayor’s proposal jeopardises the democratic integrity of the LFEPA and that it should be elected members accountable to Londoners who make transparent decisions in the interest of everybody in the capital.
“Given the threat that the Mayor’s proposals present to democratic decision-making at the LFEPA, and the potential impact this could have on the safety of Londoners, this Assembly calls on the Mayor to withdraw the plans with immediate effect and to work with the Assembly to develop proposals that would provide strong leadership, accountability and democratic representation to improve the provision of the fire and rescue service to Londoners.”