LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners

Meeting: 
Plenary on 2015-12-02
Session date: 
December 2, 2015
Reference: 
2015/3980
Question By: 
Fiona Twycross
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA) and Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, London Fire Brigade)

Question

Since 2009/10, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority has had to make cuts of £105.8 million and a further £50 million has been taken from the LFEPA reserves. Are you confident that in light of these and future budget cuts, the London Fire Brigade will continue to be fit for purpose and can ensure the safety of Londoners?

Answer

Answer for LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners

Answer for LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners

Answered By: 
Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA) and Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, London Fire Brigade)

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  The short answer is yes.  Despite the savings that have been made - and I do take the safety of Londoners very, very carefully when promoting any savings that need to be made to the LFEPA budget - we still continue to deliver one of the best emergency responses in the world.

Since the year which was mentioned in the question, 2009/10, the numbers of fires and other incidents have continued to reduce very significantly in the capital.  In fact, the number of fires in properties and vehicles has gone down by some 23% since 2009/10.  All fires, including outdoor fires, have gone down by some 31%.  The number of all incidents the LFB attends has gone down by 27%.  The rolling ten-year average for fire deaths in London has fallen from 63 down to 49.

As I have said, we do continue to deliver one of the fastest emergency response times in the UK and we model our resources on being able to meet our London-wide target attendance times of having the first engine at an emergency in an average of six minutes and the second one, when it is needed, in an average of eight minutes.  In saying that, it is a really important point to remember that fire engines and fire stations do not stop fires happening.  It is proactive fire-prevention work that helps reduce fires and save lives.

As an example, our home fire safety visits are a key to our prevention work.  We have evaluated these and reported to LFEPA MembersMembers in 2013 that between 2006 and 2012 we believe that we prevented over 4,500 fires taking place in London.  There is a significant economic cost, obviously, attached to having prevented those fires.  We have continued to deliver more home fire safety visits in 2012 ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  Quite a lot of this was in your opening statement.  Gareth, do you have anything to add as Chairman?

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  Yes, I do.  I will pick up one point, the reserves point, because this is something that gets talked about often, principally when people are opposing any budgetary changes to the LFB.

On the reserves and the £50 million that is talked about very often, it is a source of slight frustration to me that people talk about that as though we are talking about the budget.  It is not the same thing.  Reserves can, obviously, be used only once.  You cannot use reserves to plug revenue shortcomings over a period of time because it is an unsustainable budget strategy ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  With respect, that is not what the question says.  It does say that the reserves were removed.  It does not imply that there is £50 million every year.  I can appreciate you might be frustrated ‑‑

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  It does not acknowledge, Fiona, that that money has been replaced because it has.  The way the reserves were taken is that ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  How has it been replaced?  Can you explain where it has been replaced?  I do not understand that at all.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  Yes, certainly.  Of course I can, yes.  I have no problem with that at all.

In 2012/13, £30 million was reduced from the precept funding from the LFEPA and transferred to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).  That was a one-year thing only and we funded the gap in the LFEPA by using reserves and so that £30 million came from there.  That came back the following year and so that was replaced straight away.

On the £20 million, over the course of 2014/15, the Mayor had to fund LFEPA to the tune of a further £20 million to cover further Government cuts and that has remained in the budget as well, which is what went straight into his commitment to not ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  With respect, you are focusing on the reserves rather than the cuts we have to make.  I accept that it was in the question and so it gave you licence to do that but ‑‑

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  You wrote the question, Fiona, and I am giving you the answer.

Fiona Twycross AM:  Absolutely, but you are focusing entirely on the reserves rather than on the overall cuts.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  With respect to you, that is because the Commissioner answered the question with regards to the funding cuts and gave you a lot of the information.  The fact that he said it twice does not make it any less right.  He did not answer the question about reserves, which I just picked up and gave you the answer to.

Fiona Twycross AM:  We appreciate your answer on reserves, although we probably dispute the answer.

Clearly, the ideal starting point for us as the Labour Group [on LFEPA] would be that we are in a position where we do not actually have to make further cuts.  At some point, in all these emergency services, there will come a point at which the luck runs out for the organisation and something drastic happens as a result of the cuts.  However, we do accept that we are legally required to make these cuts.

Our main issue in regard to the cuts we have to make this year is that the approach that has been recommended, which so far appears to have the support of the Conservative Group [on LFEPA], appears to be a ridiculously simplistic approach to cuts.  For example, you are saying, “We have 13 fire engines that are not in use and so let us just get rid of them”, even though in local areas it is possible to demonstrate that there has been an impact on attendance times.  As we all know, it is not necessarily the number of fires that is the overall issue; it is how fast a fire engine can get to a fire when an incident occurs.  We do have quite a lot of to-and-fro about this and I can see that a colleague opposite is chuntering away because, obviously, I have raised this with him in the past as well.  However, to say that we have these 13 fires engines that are not used and should just get rid of them is incredibly simplistic.

We would welcome the letter that we received as Fire Authority MembersMembers from Sir Edward Lister [Chief of Staff to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Policy and Planning] in which he welcomed the initiatives shown by my colleague Andrew Dismore [AM], Chair of LFEPA’s Resources Committee, in putting forward his own budget option.  I just wonder whether you also welcomed the initiatives shown by the Chair of Resources and whether you will be recommending as Chairman that you change the position that the group seems to have had previously and back the alternative put forward by the Resources Committee in order to protect the front line.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  We are prejudging a meeting that will take place this afternoon, of course, but I certainly do welcome the initiative shown by Andrew Dismore AM.  It is in marked contrast to what we have seen before.  Actually having alternatives to discuss and go through is definitely a good step forward.  I do not see why anyone would object to that.  It seems like a very good idea.

In terms of which option is ultimately chosen, that is not for me to say today.  I cannot tell you.  We have to have that discussion at the LFEPA [meeting].

Fiona Twycross AM:  What is your understanding of the Mayor’s promise to protect the front line, however?  Do you think that if he does push LFEPA to cut the 13 fire engines, he would be effectively deceiving Londoners, given his previous commitments to not make further cuts to the front line during the duration of the Fifth London Safety Plan (LSP5)?

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  It is important to remember that the 13 appliances you are referring to were off the run before LSP5 came in place.  The target times that were recommended during LSP5 have been exceeded since they have been off the run and so the Mayor is quite legitimate in saying that if those 13 appliances do come off the run permanently, he will not have broken that promise.

Fiona Twycross AM:  How does this fit in with the request from Sir Edward [Lister] [Chief of Staff to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, Policy and Planning] for us to remember that the Mayor’s commitment was to fund LFEPA so as to avoid any further major frontline realignment?  This is a major frontline realignment whether or not the fire engines were in place compared to what LSP5 suggested we should have.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  The wording that he uses is that it should “avoid the need for any further major frontline realignment over the lifetime of LSP5 from 2013 to 2017”, which ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  Are you excluding these 13 fire engines from this?

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  These fire engines were not in service throughout the lifetime of LSP5.  If they are ultimately taken off the run permanently, it will not be in any way at odds with what Sir Edward and the Mayor have said.

Fiona Twycross AM:  Londoners would probably disagree.  There is a significant difference between a temporary removal of fire engines and a permanent removal of fire engines.  I would dispute - and we would dispute quite strongly - that this is not or would not represent a major frontline realignment.  I am quite concerned that you seem to be shifting the goalposts a little bit on this, as I am sure ‑‑

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  I am sorry.  Could you clarify that?  How are the goalposts shifting?

Fiona Twycross AM:  It has never been suggested before that this was not a frontline realignment.  You are saying that because the fire engines ‑‑

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  I beg to differ.  It has, absolutely, been the case all along.  The argument has not changed one bit.

Fiona Twycross AM:  This is a major frontline realignment compared to LSP5 and the majority of the Members of LFEPA would dispute the argument that this does not represent a major frontline realignment.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  You may well be right, Fiona ‑‑

Fiona Twycross AM:  We can discuss this further this afternoon.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  ‑‑ and we will see this afternoon.  That is fine.