Mayor Boris Johnson looks set to overrule the capital’s fire authority and order the axing of 13 currently mothballed fire engines to balance the London Fire Brigade’s budget.
The engines were withdrawn from day-to-day service in August 2013 to ensure private contractors could provide emergency cover during strikes by firefighters. Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson has recommended axing them permanently to meet budget cuts, arguing that doing so would not adversely impact response times.
However a majority of members on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which employs Mr Dobson, opposed his recommendation and backed an alternative budget proposal which would retain the engines but move to a single crew at stations which operate specialist appliances such as aerial ladder platforms alongside a fire engine.
This would mean that either the engine or the specialist appliance could be deployed but not both at once.
Mayor Boris Johnson ordered the authority to hold a public consultation on the competing proposals before taking a final decision but, despite a majority of those taking part in the consultation favouring Mr Dismore’s proposed budget, Mr Dobson last week said he would stick with his original proposal to scrap the engines.
On Wednesday the full authority met to debate the two rival options, with a majority ultimately voting to back Mr Dismore’s budget.
Mr Johnson has the power to overrule members and direct them to implement the Commissioner’s recommendation and today his office said he was “minded” to do just that.
A spokesperson said: “Frontline services and the safety of Londoners remain the Mayor’s top priority, and he will take time to consider the issues raised by LFEPA members today. However he is minded to direct the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to follow the Fire Commissioner’s preferred option.
“Fires and fire deaths in London remain at a record low as the London Fire Brigade continues to do an excellent job. In the two and half years since these 13 appliances have been held back from the frontline, response time targets have continued to be comfortably met.
“The savings achieved by their permanent removal would allow more money to be invested in frontline officers, and help fund vital long term work to continue reducing the number of fires and deaths in the capital for many years to come.”
The Mayor’s stance has been criticised by Labour’s London Assembly Fire Spokesperson, Dr Fiona Twycross AM, who said: “The Fire Authority has made it clear that we, like the majority of the public, don’t support axing London fire engines, when safer alternatives exist.
“It’s outrageous that the Mayor is threatening to trample over both the democratic decision of the Fire Authority and the very clear message sent by the public against scrapping these vital fire engines.
“Axing these thirteen fire engines will lead to a less safe London with fewer resources available to respond to serious incidents. We’ve already seen response times go up since Boris’ last round of cuts. When there is a viable and fully funded alternative on the table, trampling over public opinion and threatening to scrap these fire engines is irresponsible and dangerous.”