London could lose a further 13 fire engines after Mayor Boris Johnson ordered the fire commissioner and capital’s fire authority to consider options for saving money.
The engines have been held back from day-to-day deployment for the past two years to ensure private contractors providing strike cover had access to the necessary equipment.
Boris Johnson has now signalled that he’s happy with the London Fire Brigade’s performance during the engines’ absence and has raised “the prospect” of saving £11m from the brigade’s budget “by decommissioning the 13 appliances.”
Official figures suggest fire deaths have been cut in half over the last five years and that the Brigade is meeting response times for the first and second engines to reach an incident.
Documents published on the City Hall website say: “Given that this level of performance has been achieved without access to the 13 appliances which have been set aside for use in the event of strike action, the question has arisen as to whether the 13 appliances are in fact required by the LFB.”
“The Mayor has also noted that 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.”
Two years ago the Mayor used his 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.
A majority of authority members opposed the cuts and only proceeded with a public consultation on them after being instructed to do so by the Mayor. Following the consultation the plan was revised to reduce the number of engines and stations being cut but increased the numbers of jobs lost.
Members were later advised that they were legally required to follow the Mayor’s instructions and implement the cuts.
The prospect of further cuts is likely to lead to another face-off between the Mayor and opposition politicians on the authority who have previously called on Johnson to use his share of the council tax to safeguard the brigade’s budget.
Johnson is committed to reducing his council tax precept by 10% by the the time he leaves office next May.
Stephen Knight, a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly and a member of the fire authority, said: “Londoners were outraged at the way Boris Johnson forced through the last set of fire service cuts in 2013 to pay for a trivial cut in his council tax precept.
“Now, in his final months in office, he looks set to do it all over again by ordering the fire authority to cut a further 13 engines from its fleet. If he succeeds, his legacy will be a weaker fire service and a less safe city.”