Dissolution of LFEPA

Meeting: 
Plenary on 2015-12-02
Session date: 
December 2, 2015
Reference: 
2015/3981
Question By: 
Tony Arbour
Organisation: 
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA) and Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, London Fire Brigade)

Question

In light of the similar responses from the Mayor, Assembly and Fire Authority to the Government's consultation 'Enabling closer working between the Emergency Services', what impact do you envisage the dissolution of LFEPA and the establishment of a Deputy Mayor for Fire and Emergency Planning would have on the London Fire Brigade?

Answer

Answer for Dissolution of LFEPA

Answer for Dissolution of LFEPA

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):  Thank you, Tony.  This has achieved a remarkable level of consensus amongst decision-makers in London.  The Mayor, the Assembly and LFEPA submitted responses to the Government consultation that were very closely aligned.

As set out in the response, it was agreed by the Appointments and Urgency Committee on behalf of LFEPA that what would happen is that the Mayor would discharge his or her responsibilities for fire through a statutory Deputy Mayor for Fire and Emergency Planning, who would be responsible for the relevant policy and budgetary powers for the LFB on behalf of the Mayor.  The response that was sent by LFEPA set out that the LFB should become a corporation sole, which means that it retains its own identity as it currently has but, in the absence of a new mayoral agency, it would become a functional body of the Greater London Authority (GLA).  One impact of this would be that the London Fire Commissioner would become a statutory role as the executive head of the LFB and would be directly answerable to the Mayor of London.  The London Assembly would have a statutory Fire and Emergency Planning Committee, which would then provide scrutiny and oversight of the new structure.

The advantage of that is that at the moment LFEPA has morphed into a bit of a hybrid function.  It is actually supposed to be an executive board along the lines of Transport for London’s board’s function, but it is trying to simultaneously perform the function of scrutineer of mayoral activity.  As a result of that, we get this fairly murky compromise where drift and delay becomes the norm and conflict that perhaps does not need to happen does happen.  Ultimately, the changes would increase the accountability of the Mayor for fire and emergency planning policy.  It would speed up the decision-making process and I believe it would generally be good for the LFB because the LFB would be able to get on with its work in a more timely manner.  Scrutiny would not be neglected; it could be carried out by the London Assembly, which is where really the scrutiny should belong.

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Can we have your views on that, Commissioner?

Darren Johnson AM:  Do not start unravelling the consensus!

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  He knows better than that.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I do not think I will do that.  I agree with the views that Members have made, really, in terms of the agreement on LFEPA.  Members are best placed to decide on the governance structures rather than me.

My one comment, I suppose, is that we need to make sure that there are proper scrutiny arrangements in place for either me or my successor in the future to make sure that the LFEPA is properly accountable.  However, actual decisions and comments about what that structure looks like are for Members rather than for me.

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Do you think that the catalyst for this proposal has been the intransigent way in which the current majority on LFEPA has taken the opportunity to see it as a way of getting at the Mayor and not accepting that the Mayor does, at the end of the day, have powers of Direction?

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  Possibly.  I might put it in slightly different language, Tony.  It is undeniably true that a situation has arisen over recent years where LFEPA has not entirely recognised its role as an executive decision-maker, has morphed into a position where it sees itself as trying to provide a scrutiny and check-and-balance role to the Mayor and has then ended up in a prolonged standoff, which is only ever resolved by a Mayoral Direction, which is a power, of course, that was granted to the previous Mayor but has been used - or has been needed to be used - extensively by the current Mayor.

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  If I can ask the Commissioner, you have told us that you agree with your Chairman and it is absolutely right.  I cannot imagine there ever being a Chairman whom you have not agreed with.  However, there is a suggestion that this is going to free up time.  Do you agree that having the proposed new structure will in fact liberate you and your colleagues to do frontline work?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I would hesitate to say that we have been stopped from doing any frontline work by the current arrangements.  We have managed to do all we needed to do.  Potentially, looking at the structures that are maybe going to be proposed, there will be less time on officers in terms of preparation for committees and reports and things.  However, that said, as I said, there needs to be proper scrutiny arrangements in place and proper decision-making in place.  I do not know exactly what that would look like at the moment or how much time it would take up and so it is quite difficult to answer the question in any more detail than that, really.

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Finally to you, Chairman, there has been a suggestion that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) might see fire and emergency planning as part of its role and therefore, in terms of there being a separate Deputy Mayor for Fire, in fact the Deputy Mayor for Policing [and Crime] should take over fire as well.  Do you have a view on that?

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  I do.  I would not support that, primarily because in terms of size of budget - if for no other reason - the MPS’s budget dwarfs fire by a considerable margin and there is a danger if that were to happen that the focus on fire would be entirely lost and would be subsumed within a focus on the MPS.  That, I do not suggest, would be a good result for London.  Fire is a very important emergency service and it needs to be recognised and kept separate.

That would not, of course, preclude interagency working.  There is a considerable amount of interagency working that goes on between the blue-light services in London already and that can continue anyway.  It does not need to have one Deputy Mayor overseeing all of it for that to happen.