LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners (Supplementary) [4]

Session date: 
December 2, 2015
Question By: 
Andrew Dismore
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

Andrew Dismore AM:  First of all, Gareth, I am pleased that you welcome that we have put forward an alternative budget and I look forward to debating that with you this afternoon.  I hope that it will mean we can save Kentish Town’s pump, which is in the mix of the 13 fire engines.  After the Belsize and Clerkenwell closures in the LSP5 round, Camden has taken more than its fair share of cuts, as the attendance figures show.

What I really want to do, though, is to concentrate on the future Sixth London Safety Plan (LSP6).  From Camden’s point of view in particular, one of the issues will be the impact of High Speed 2 (HS2) and the road closures and disruptions that come with that, and we hope that that will be featured in the mix for how we develop LSP6.

However, I want to look at it in a more strategic way.  I suppose the first question for you is this.  Will LSP6 - which is the next LFB safety plan due to come into force in 2016/17, assuming we agree to extend the current plan this afternoon - be risk-based or cuts-based?

 

Answer

Answer for LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners (Supplementary) [4]

Answer for LFEPA Cuts and the Safety of Londoners (Supplementary) [4]

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

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  It is always risk-based.  Everything we do is based on risk.

Andrew Dismore AM:  The question for the Commissioner is this.  What, if anything, is ruled out for LSP6?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  From my personal perspective, retained firefighters.  I do not believe that a retained firefighting service would be right for London.  Our city is far too complex for that and it would introduce a degree of complexity into our system that we do not need.  Therefore, for me, retained firefighting would be ruled out.

However, I would like to think that everything else would have a potential to be considered because there are other things we might be able to do in the future that will improve the service we deliver for Londoners.

Andrew Dismore AM:  You do not rule out more cuts in frontline fire engines?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I cannot rule anything out at the moment because I do not know.  The London Safety Plan is always a balance of our risk assessment and the resources we have available to deliver that service.  I do not know what the level of budget will be in the future and so we would need to keep that one open.

Andrew Dismore AM:  All right.  Your answer to the question that I put to Gareth would be this: “It is not just risk-based but it is also cuts-based”?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  It is resource-based.  It depends on the services we are trying to deliver against the risk we have perceived.  Obviously, part of that is to look at the resource we have available to deliver that service.  It has to be part of that.

Andrew Dismore AM:  If the financial package available to the LFB was less because of cuts, the resources would be less, yes?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Yes.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Therefore, it is not just risk-based, is it?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  It is because I would say that in future we might not actually be looking at it the way we have done previously by looking at fire station or fire engine reductions.  There are other ways in which we can look to deliver our service.  I have ruled out retaining firefighting because it will not be the right way, but there are lots of other ways in which we might be able to provide our service other than the wholly whole-time 24/7 service that we have at the moment.  Looking around the country, there are some really good and very innovative examples now of the ways services have dealt with providing the same level of service with a different amount of staff working different types of systems.

Andrew Dismore AM:  OK, let me come to that in a minute.  You have not ruled out more cuts in frontline fire engines.  Do you rule out cuts in fire stations?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I cannot.  I am not ruling that out.  I cannot rule out anything.

Andrew Dismore AM:  All right.  Let us talk about firefighter shift patterns.  From what you are saying, you do not rule out changes in the shift pattern?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I have no desire to change the firefighter shift pattern against how we currently assess risk and the way we provide our service.  However, part of that is the London Safety Plan and we should look at all options.  We should not be ruling anything out before we actually start the process.  Therefore, the alternative shift patterns that other brigades have already used and have been using to very good effect should be one of the things that we consider.  I am not saying that that would be one of my recommendations, but it is certainly something that we should consider because a London Safety Plan should look at all areas of risk and all opportunities.

Andrew Dismore AM:  What sort of shift patterns are we talking about?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I do not know yet because we have not done the work on that.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Let us look at alternative crewing.  Do you rule out alternative crewing with specials, fire rescue units (FRUs) and aerials, for example?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  No, I do not rule that out.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Do you think it is likely to form a feature of recommendations for LSP6?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Possibly in some areas, yes.

Andrew Dismore AM:  By ‘some areas’ do you mean geographically or by ‘some areas’ do you mean ‑‑

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  No, I mean some types of specials, not necessarily geographically.

Andrew Dismore AM:  What about FRUs?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  My personal view at the moment is that we have mentioned in the London Safety Plan before we need to consider the alternative crewing of specials, FRUs being one of those.  My personal preference is not to crew FRUs because I believe that the training loading on the staff that work at those stations is too great to reduce it down to only one crew available.  Actually, the FRUs provide such a level of different types of specialist capability now, particularly around things like flooding and others, that I do not believe we should have any doubt about their availability.

Andrew Dismore AM:  What about aerials?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  For aerials, potentially there is a case for alternative crewing in some areas, yes.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Do you rule out further cuts to the numbers of firefighters?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Depending on the shift pattern.  If we look at different types of ways of providing the service, then inevitably there will be different numbers of staff that we would need, but I do not know what those numbers would be at the moment because we have not done that work yet.

Andrew Dismore AM:  We are likely to see fewer firefighters?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I would not say that we are likely to.  I am saying that I would not rule it out.

Andrew Dismore AM:  If we change the shift pattern, you do not rule out cuts in fire engines and you do not rule out cuts in fire stations, then, presumably, that implies we are going to have fewer firefighters, does it not?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  It might do; it might not.  It might be that we deploy our firefighters in a different way.  It does not necessarily mean fewer firefighters.  As I say, I would not rule it out but it certainly does not definitely mean that.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Are we likely to see recommendations for reductions in officer numbers above the rank of Group Manager?  We currently have 80 officers above that rank and only 103 fire stations.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  We have around that number of officers spread across four duty systems and we have only about 20 on each duty system, and so it is not quite as big as the number might suggest.

It looks like one of the recommendations this afternoon is - and MembersMembers have already agreed it through the Resources Committee - that we should look at the numbers of officers at Station Manager and Group Manager level as part of next year’s budget round.  We will definitely do that.  I would like to think that, if Members agree the recommendation about the London Safety Plan this afternoon, the budget consideration and the London Safety Plan will work together next year because that will be the best way to do it.  I would not rule out a reduction in the number of officers, either, no.

Andrew Dismore AM:  What assumptions are underpinning your preparatory work on LSP6?  Presumably, you have started some preparatory work already.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Members have a paper this afternoon, actually, talking about what we might do in terms of public consultation on the ways in which we look at risk.  That is our preparatory work and I cannot really say whether or not it is going to be accepted because Members are going to debate that this afternoon.

Andrew Dismore AM:  You are not working on any assumptions at all?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I am not working on any assumptions at the moment, no.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Under LSP6, do you anticipate that we will see a further increase in first and second pump attendance times?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  The standards?

Andrew Dismore AM:  No, not the standard - the standard is six [minutes for first appliance attendance] and eight [minutes for second appliance attendance] - but in actual attendance times.  I am more concerned about actual attendance times.

For example, when Belsize’s pump went, we saw a dramatic increase in attendance times in that ward.  In July, it took 15 minutes for a pump to get to the person who reported [the fire].  It came from Dowgate and all the way to Belsize.  Then, of course, we had the fatal [fire] the other week.  I am not going to go into that in any more detail at the moment because there are inquiries into that, but it did take 14 minutes for the pump to get to the fire in Camden Road; that is a matter of record.  In Belsize, we saw a dramatic increase in attendance times in that area.

What I am saying is this.  Will we see a further increase in actual attendance times - not the target but actual attendance times - for first and second pumps as a result of LSP6?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I cannot say whether we will or we will not, to be honest.  It depends on the work that we do around how we are going to provide the service in the future.

My personal view is that we should maintain the attendance standard targets that we have at the moment of six and eight minutes.  I always strive, whatever we do in terms of the design of the LFB and the London Safety Plans, to achieve those targets and to improve our attendance time as much as we possibly can.  That is some of the work that we have done around firefighter turnout times when they receive a call and a new mobilising to be designed in the future to achieve quicker attendance times.  We are doing whatever we can to improve and speed up attendance times within the constraints with which we work.

I do not necessarily know what those constraints are going to be in the future.  LSP6 will be about looking at what we have and how we can deliver that service better.  One of the intentions with that - and my intention would be - to speed up attendance times across the board, not only in those places where we have seen increases recently.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Will we see an improvement in the unequal attendance times between different parts of London?  Some parts of London - particularly outer London - have dramatically higher attendance times and do not meet the six- and eight-minute targets.  Will we see improvements there?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I hope so.  As I mentioned in answer to Mr Evans’s question, one of the things I would very much like to do is to have a programme of rebuilding some of our fire stations in better places.  We have been through a period of replacing some fire stations - nine stations over the last few years - and that is drawing to a conclusion, but we do know that some of our stations are in the wrong place.  It is not quite as simple as just saying, “It is in the wrong place; we need to move it”, because we have to have the money to be able to do that, we have to find the land to do that and we have to go through a whole range of things.  However, I would like to think that LSP6 would seek Members’ approval for a plan where we have a programme over a number of years of moving fire stations from their current locations to new locations, designed exactly to improve attendance standards across the board and to even them up.  We are trying to provide a London-wide standard and that is very important.  I would like us to continue to get closer to that if we possibly can.

Andrew Dismore AM:  You talk about ‘evening up’.  Presumably you mean ‘evening down’ rather than ‘evening up’?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Sorry, yes.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Does that mean that inner London, which has traditionally had better times, is going to end up with worse times, as we saw as a result of LSP5 and all the cuts particularly in central London with fire stations like Clerkenwell, Belsize and the ones that Mayor Biggs was talking about earlier on?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Not necessarily because, as I have said, what I would like to do is to move the location of some of our fire stations.  When moving the location, we know much more information now about where the risk is and where fires are likely to occur and we are able to model that much more closely than we have ever been able to before.  I would like to think that we will be able to even down the attendance standards across London whilst not impacting on central London.  I do not want to make attendance times in central London any longer than they are in the moment.

However, in having a rebuilding programme where we can build new fire stations in new locations or, indeed, find another way of providing the service, maybe, we will probably need to look at what the London Ambulance Service [LAS] does in terms of deploying its resources from static locations outside of its ambulance stations.  That is not something we have done previously, but it could be something we will look at in the future.  All of that would be around trying to make sure that we do not adversely impact on attendance times in some places in order to improve them in others.

Andrew Dismore AM:  That would mean having a fire engine parked on a roundabout somewhere waiting for a fire call with, presumably, the firefighter sitting there and not doing very much?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Yes.  The reason we have not done that so far is because the number of fire calls is so low.  The number of fire calls continues to go down every year and, therefore, it would not be an appropriate use of our resources to deploy in that way.  The LAS is in a very different position, as we know.  Its attendance standards are based upon its utilisation rates and it may need to do things like that.  We do not need to do that at the moment and, actually, it would not be a good use of firefighters’ time.  I would rather have them out delivering proactive community work than sitting in a car park somewhere.

However, it is certainly one of those things once again, as I said.  We will need to consider all options as part of LSP6.  It might be something that we dismiss quite quickly, but it certainly needs to be something that we consider.

Andrew Dismore AM:  The options include potentially having fire engines parked in car parks or roundabouts.  The options include cutting fire engines, cutting fire stations, cutting firefighters, changing the shift pattern, potentially reducing officers and alternative crewing.  Yes?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  The options also include doing none of those.  The options also include rebuilding fire stations to improve attendance times, providing different ways that firefighters can deliver the service, providing more community safety work to make Londoners safe and to reduce the number of fires again and providing a more specialist service in some areas so that our firefighters’ skills in special areas like the FRUs can be used to greater effect.  All of those things are possible but are also not possible.

Andrew Dismore AM:  All right.  Would you like to have a little wager with me?  Let us have £5 on it ‑‑

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I do not bet.  I never bet.

Andrew Dismore AM:  ‑‑ that LSP6 will have, as I think, cuts in the matters that I referred to.  Would you like to have a little bet with me on whether it will or it will not?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I am not a gambling man.

Andrew Dismore AM:  No, I am sure you are not, certainly not when it comes to fire stations, fire engines and firefighter cuts.