Boris Johnson is considering asking Government Ministers to allow him to treble the number of appointments he’s allowed to make to the capital’s fire authority (LFEPA).
The Mayor also wants Ministers to cut the number of Assembly Members and Councillors who sit on the 17-strong authority.
Although the Mayor sets LFEPA’s budget, the body is considered a standalone authority from City Hall and is not under the Mayor’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 along the lines of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, a move which would give the Mayor full control over fire services.
Scrutiny of the new body would then become the responsibility of the London Assembly.
However such a move would require primary legislation which is unlikely to be brought forward before next year’s General Election.
A letter sent to council leaders, Assembly Members and the Fire Brigades Union says the Mayor plans to ask Ministers to make interim changes which allow him to make more appointments.
Under the Mayor’s proposals, he would be able to appoint six members – up form the current 2 – while the number of Assembly Members would be reduced from eight to six, and the number of London Borough Councillors from seven to five.
The letter says the changes would “represent a better reflection of the Mayor’s democratic mandate pending more fundamental reform via primary legislation.
“Furthermore, it would address the problem created by the current system whereby the Commissioner often receives contradictory sets of messages on resourcing issues, one from LFEPA and one from the Mayoralty.”
It adds that the Mayor is committed to ensuring “all GLA group operations are conducted as transparently as possible and that the Assembly be enabled to scrutinise any Mayoral decision as it sees fit.”
Those affected by changes – AMs, boroughs and the FBU – have been asked to submit their views to the Mayor’s office ahead of him deciding whether to ask Ministers to make the changes.
Green Party AM and LFEPA member Darren Johnson said any changes to the authority’s governance “should be reviewed in an open, thorough and cross-party way – rather than rushing through something like this which turns one dog’s breakfast into another.
Fiona Twycross, Labour’s London Assembly Fire spokesperson, said she was “deeply concerned” by the Mayor’s proposals which she labelled “anti-democratic” and claimed “will weaken the voice of local government on the fire authority.”
Caroline Pidgeon AM, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, described the proposals as “a power grab from the Mayor.”
She added: “The Mayor’s record of abusing his existing powers to appoint people to the London Fire Authority has been bad enough.”
“After forcing through the closure of 10 fire stations the last thing London needs is a fire authority that has fewer elected councillors and London Assembly Members on it to keep a check on the Mayor and to speak up for Londoners. By seeking to sideline elected representatives that have sought to defend London’s fire service it seems the Mayor wants to have the power to close even further fire stations.”