Additional funding for the fire service

Meeting: 
MQT on 2017-08-10
Session date: 
August 10, 2017
Reference: 
2017/3305
Question By: 
Andrew Dismore
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor
Category: 

Question

What response have you had so far to your request for additional funding for the fire service, and what will the consequences be, if the Government does not accede to that request?

Answer

Answer for Additional funding for the fire service

Answer for Additional funding for the fire service

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Chair.  I want to thank, on behalf of all Londoners, everyone who works for the LFB for the hard work they do day-in-day-out.  They are a credit to the fire service. 

 

Assembly Members will know that I wrote to the Home Secretary on 12 July expressing concerns about the resourcing of the LFB following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.  In the letter I explained that following Grenfell Tower I asked Dany Cotton [QFSM], London Fire Commissioner, to review the specialist equipment and support the LFB requirements to support future rescue and recovery exercises.  Her initial assessment indicated the LFB needs £6 million in new specialist equipment, and an additional £6 million a year to operate and maintain the equipment.  The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s (LFEPA) Resource Committee recently endorsed that assessment.  This week I have had an initial response from the Home Secretary which I regret to say is not encouraging and stresses that this is a matter for the GLA to manage within its existing funding arrangements.  We will consider the response from the Home Secretary over the coming days. 

 

It is worth remembering the context that informed my initial letter.  The GLA’s spending power has fallen significantly in 2017/18.  London’s fire funding from the Government has been cut repeatedly over the past seven years.  Meanwhile, we must also make further savings to balance the budget position inherited from the former Mayor.  If additional resources are not forthcoming from the Government we shall face very serious difficulties in maintaining and improving the fire brigade’s essential work of protecting London and Londoners. 

 

I reiterate that keeping Londoners safe is my first duty.  I have responsibility to ensure that our courageous firefighters have the kit they need.  I therefore have requested that arrangements are put in place now to procure the items the Commissioner has asked for.  This will mean, initially at least, drawing on reserves which, of course, can only be used once.  It leaves the ongoing annual cost unfunded in future years.  Under the former Mayor the fifth London Safety Plan closed ten fire stations, removed 14 fire appliances and cut over 500 firefighter posts.  Therefore, while we continue to search out efficiencies, the Fire Commissioner has said plainly that savings of this scale cannot be achieved without significant reductions in, and reconfigurations to, frontline response, say nothing of the wider important work the brigade does day-in-day-out to protect Londoners.

 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Thank you.  It is rather disappointing that the Home Secretary has responded in the way you have just indicated.  As part of an initial assessment post Grenfell fire the Fire Commissioner identified the shortfall, which is not just £6 million.  That actually represents three extended height aerial ladders that we know are desperately needed, two drones, 1,200 extended duration breathing apparatus sets and other specialised kit, as well as restoring Boris Johnson’s [MP, former Mayor of London] previous cut of 27 fire safety inspection officers.  You have quite rightly told the Commissioner to get on with the procurement as most of this equipment takes time to come through.  You cannot buy it over the counter.  However, how can we afford all this if the Government does not help?

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  There will be serious problems in the future with balancing the books for the LFB.  Let me be clear though, when we have a situation where firefighters are risking their personal safety and their lives to keep Londoners safe it is unacceptable for them not to have the equipment that they tell me they need.  That is why I have authorised the expenditure of this money to procure the equipment.  We are spending our reserves.  You can only spend the reserves once.  Unless the Government recognises the resources the LFB needs, I worry about the future funding of the London fire service.  What we cannot afford to do is have cuts on the scale the former Mayor did.  It is not sustainable.

 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Depending on the outcome of the current pay negotiations the brigade could face a budget gap of £25.5 million by 2021/22, which is of the same magnitude as those cuts forced through by Boris Johnson that you mentioned earlier and that were opposed by LFEPA at the time.  He issued a direction to require us to make those cuts and that led to me resigning from the Chair of the Resources Committee.  If the brigade has to make cuts of this magnitude - which I do not think can be contemplated - what risk to Londoners do you see as a result of all that? 

 

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Let us cross that bridge when we come to it.  What I do know is that the Government simply does not understand the financial position of the GLA or the LFB.  The Home Secretary, I am disappointed to say, was advised using figures that were a miscalculation and not understanding how the reserve situation works.  I will give you one example of the challenge that the LFB faces in relation to reserves.  There is currently, roughly speaking, £37 million of reserves in the LFB and £16 million of that is earmarked for specific projects.  They are advised to have a 3.5% contingency which is, roughly speaking, £14 million.  They are only left with £7 million.  For the Home Secretary to think you can buy the equipment the Fire Commissioner has advised we need for that sum of money shows a lack of understanding.  I am hoping that when I get a chance to explain this to the Home Secretary she will recognise why we need additional resources to keep our city safe.