Mayor directs Fire Authority to face financial responsibilities
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson today directed the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) to start public consultation on the unamended version of the Draft Fifth London Safety Plan and in the form recommended by the London Fire Commissioner.
The Mayor has taken this unprecedented step after the Fire Authority failed to show the leadership expected of it at its meeting last week. Instead it amended plans put forward by the Commissioner which sought to ensure financial stability over the next couple of years and to make improvements in operational efficiency and effectiveness. The effect of the amendments was to make the Draft Plan undeliverable within the budgets set.
In the recent Local Government Settlement, the Mayor was able to secure a better than expected financial settlement for LFEPA, with an additional £13 million over and above what was previously anticipated for 2013-14, the best of any fire authority in England. However this still means that there is a need to make around £30 million of savings for LFEPA in 2014/15.
As a result, Commissioner Ron Dobson has put forward proposals to achieve financial savings which would arise from reducing the number of fire stations in the capital from 112 to 100 while maintaining the ability to beat the current exacting response time targets across the capital. The Commissioner believes it would be possible to make these changes without making any operational firefighters compulsorily redundant. Plans also include how the service can start to recover costs from persistent false alarm offenders, encourage the installation of sprinkler systems where appropriate, and explore setting up the world’s first 999 twitter feed.However, the Fire Authority chose to remove any reference to fire station closures in the Draft Plan and to reject the advice of the Commissioner, a firefighter with over 33 years of experience. By not tackling the 2014/15 budget gap now, the Authority have increased the likelihood of compulsory redundancies in future years.
The Mayor of London said:
‘There have been some outrageous claims that the Fire Commissioner and I would put lives of Londoners at risk, so I have directed the plans to go for consultation as planned because the option presented by the Authority is unfit for purpose and unsustainable in budget terms. It is essential that the London Fire Brigade continues to modernise so that it can remain one of the world's leading rescue services and is equipped to respond to 21st century fire fighting needs.
‘It's right that tough decisions have to be made in times of economic uncertainty. History shows the difficulties organisations face when they don't meet their financial responsibilities. With 100 fire stations and over 150 fire engines, I am completely resolute that any agreed proposals will still be able to deal with large scale or multiple emergencies.’
In the last decade the demand for the London Fire Brigade’s services has changed dramatically and the Safety Plan will reflect that in the way it sets out how fire stations engines and staff in the city are organised. Compared with a decade ago, the Brigade attends half as many fires and fire deaths are down a third. Although 12 stations are earmarked for closure, the proposals are chiefly about improving London's fire service, equipping the Brigade for the challenges of 21st century fire fighting, and maintaining the country’s leading response times.