Mayor Sadiq Khan has been told he’ll have to wait until at least next April before gaining direct control of the capital’s fire brigade, with Whitehall civil servants blaming next month’s general election for the delay.
The brigade is currently overseen by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) which is made up of local councillors, London Assembly members and representatives of the mayor.
However the authority was due to be abolished this year in line with a recommendation from the House of Commons communities and local government select committee which proposed replacing LFEPA with a new Mayoral appointee, and passing scrutiny of the brigade to the London Assembly.
MPs made the recommendation after hearing evidence of the row between LFEPA members and former Mayor Boris Johnson over the brigade’s budget which was only finally resolved after Johnson used the Mayor’s reserve powers to overrule the authority.
Johnson’s decision, which led to the closure of fire stations and axing of fire engines was controversial and opposed by Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat LFEPA members.
However the former Mayor’s insistence that the changes would not make Londoners less safe were vindicated last year after a review commissioned by Mayor Khan found that the brigade had sufficient resources to properly discharge its duties.
The governance change was originally due to come into effect this April but was recently pushed back to October. City Hall has now been told that the decision to call an early general election has led the Home Office to further delay the handover until April 1st next year.
Officials who had been working on managing the transition are now having to draw up plans for a series of unexpected LFEPA meetings to ensure brigade managers are held to account and financial decisions have proper oversight.
It’s understood that Mr Khan’s office has written to the Home Office expressing concern at the latest delay and seeking guarantees that there will be no further slippage.