Conservative party members of the London Assembly have called for the body to play a greater role in scrutinising the capital’s fire brigade and fire authority.
The brigade is overseen by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) which consists of 17 members – 8 London Assembly members, 7 local councillors and 2 members appointed by Mayor Boris Johnson.
The Mayor wants to alter the way the 17 seats are allocated, reducing the number of AMs to six, councillors to 5 and boosting his quota to six.
The proposals, which must be approved by UK government ministers, follow last year’s row over the implementation of the London Safety Plan – including closing fire stations and axing fire engines – which only ended after the Mayor overruled authority members by issuing a ‘Mayoral Direction’.
City Hall says changing how the 17 LFEPA seats are allocated would limit the Mayor having to issue further directions and better reflect his electoral mandate.
Critics accuse the Mayor of seeking to “gerrymander” the authority and claim his proposals would dilute the voice of opponents and weaken cross-party support for fire policy.
Before presenting plans to alter the membership mix to ministers, the Mayor asked Assembly groups, MPs and local councils for their views.
Responses to the Mayor’s consultation have been released under Freedom of Information laws and show support for the proposals broadly splitting along party lines – with Conservative politicians largely in favour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Labour against.
They also show Conservative Assembly Members in favour of both LFEPA and the Fire Brigade coming under more regular and formal scrutiny by the Assembly.
At present the fire commissioner and LFEPA Chair are quizzed by Assembly Members, including those who site on the fire authority, just once a year.
LFEPA Chair James Cleverly, who is also an AM, says this situation is “a parody of scrutiny” and calls on the Assembly “to review its scrutiny role in regards to LFEPA.”
His comments are echoed by Andrew Boff and Tony Arbour.
In his response to the Mayor’s consultation, Mr Boff said: “Though I do not subscribe to the opinion of those who feel these changes would in some way hamper either the Authority’s transparency or the effectiveness of its decision making, I would encourage greater oversight of LFEPA from the London Assembly.
“I believe this would not only help clarify the current confusion felt by some LFEPA Members between their executive and scrutiny responsibilities, but ensure a greater involvement of Assembly Members in the running of one of London’s most vital public services.”
Mr Arbour’s response also calls on the Assembly to “look at increasing its oversight of LFEPA using its powers to summons and inspect.”
Read the responses in full: