Dismore questions Fire Brigade Budget cuts
At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Andrew Dismore AM, Labour London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden questioned Mayor Sadiq Khan over the proposed £25 million cuts to the London Fire Brigade budget , due to the £493 million impact of Covid19 on City Hall funds and the failure of the Government to step in to help bridge the gap.
Mr Dismore put to the Mayor:
‘What impact on LFB’s post-Grenfell and post-HMICFRS transformation plans will the shortfall in GLA group funding have?
‘Coming hard on the heels of the highly critical Grenfell Inquiry first report, Last Autumn you said: “The results of the London Fire Brigade’s HMICFRS inspection were simply not good enough and it is important that changes are made to address the issues raised as quickly as possible.” The London Fire Commissioner has identified what needs to be done, including new equipment such as radios, BA and specialist vehicles including 64m aerial ladders; urgent training to raise standards on incident command and blue light appliance driving; new procedures, tactics and training for high rise firefighting; community outreach, improved fire safety work, and youth engagement.
‘In a Mayoral decision last month the cost of this vital LFB Transformation Delivery Plan was reported as being a “£4.1m estimated ongoing cost to deliver” it. How is this going to be found with the proposed £25 million cut in the Brigade’s budget?
‘In 2016, you commissioned the Anthony Mayer independent review into the Fire Brigade’s funding, after Boris Johnson’s draconian cuts to fire stations, fire engines, and firefighters. His report was unequivocal: he said the Brigade could not shoulder any further funding reductions “if it is to have sufficient resources to meet the challenges of the future, and to keep Londoners safe”.
‘Since then, we have seen the post Grenfell new legislation which will expand the Brigade’s enforcement role. New regulations are already bringing more buildings into its regulatory and enforcement role yet this expansion is barely funded. The LFB already had a significant budget gap before this latest crisis. Cuts of this magnitude cannot be achieved without affecting the frontline response, can they, as Meyer indicated. So are the average London wide six- and eight-minute response times for the first and second fire engines’ attendance now going to be at risk, jeopardising the lives and property of Londoners?
The Mayor said that COVID-19 had had an unprecedented impact on London. The Mayor has put forward budget proposals on the basis that the government continues to fail to cover lost funding to local and regional authorities including the GLA, which now faces a budget shortfall of £493 million over the next two years. He said that he had asked the Fire Brigade and the Police to make the smallest amount of cuts in order to protect front line services.
The fire brigade is being asked to make £10 million of savings in 2020/21 and £15 million in 2021/22, but the Mayor is aware of the legacy of £100 million cuts made by the previous Mayor, which did affect frontline services. The Commissioner is working through these proposals with a mind to the recommendations of the ongoing inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire and the need to improve training and equipment.
There is a prefect storm of negative connotations to these cuts, coming at a time when the brigade is undergoing a transformation programme, is responding to the needs of the Grenfell inquiry report, the HMICFRS report and new legislation.
There are no plans to change the fire response time standards, but the brigade also faces the challenge of assessing the safety of 7,000 tall buildings (out of 11,000 nationally) in London.
Notes for editors
LFB budget issues
The Mayor’s budget guidance sets out cuts of £10m in 2020/21 and £15m in 2021/22 for the Brigade – reductions of 2% and 4% of their total mayoral funding allocations in each year respectively.
|2020/21 (£ million)||2021/22 (£ million)|
|Mayoral funding (forecast in 2020/21 budget)||401.5||406.8|
|Mayoral funding (proposed)||391.5||391.8|
|Net revenue expenditure (forecast in 2020/21 budget)||449.7||448.6|
These cuts come on top of existing pressures in LFB’s budget. The Brigade was already forecast to reduce net revenue expenditure from £449.7m in 2020/21 to £434.9m in 2022/23. This assumes savings of £7.7m in 2021/22, then £34.8m and £34m in the next two years.
LFB found £3.4m of savings for 2020/21. It was already forecasting use of reserves of £15m and then £30.3m in the two years to smooth its path while further savings were found. This reduces LFB’s reserves from £72.6m at the start of 2020/21 to £24.7m in 2023/24.
Through that period, the Brigade’s reliance on council tax will increase substantially, increasing from £168.6m in 2020/21 to £191.9m in 2023/24. Its use of business rates will fall slightly, from £232.9m to £230.7m over the same period.
After the HMI report in December 2019, the Mayor said: “The results of the London Fire Brigade’s HMICFRS inspection were simply not good enough and it is important that changes are made to address the issues raised as quickly as possible.”
£11.1m extra was budgeted in 2020/21 to enable transformation. This includes £3m on new staff and £2.2m for training.
The Brigade’s Transformation and Development Plan does not cost individual items beyond an overall £3.5m in 2020/21, with £1.4m of that coming from reserves. Future funding for transformation was supposed to be met from savings.
But in a Mayoral decision from June 2020, the cost of transformation was referred to as “£4.1m estimated ongoing cost to deliver the LFB’s Transformation Delivery Plan”.
The London Fire Commissioner has identified actions that will have a price tag:
- New equipment including radios, BA and vehicles.
- Raising standards on incident command and appliance driver training
- Retraining for new policy notes across high rise firefighting
- Community outreach, improved fire safety work, and youth engagement
As well as the changes in the Transformation and Development Plan, LFB’s remit is changing. When the Fire Safety Bill passes later in 2020, the Brigade’s enforcement role will expand. New regulations are already bringing more buildings into its regulatory orbit and this will continue under the Building Safety Bill in 2020/21.
Despite predicting that an extra two million flats will be covered by the Fire Safety Bill, the Home Office has budgeted just £700k for inspections, with an absolute maximum of £2.1m. That would pay for only 35 new fire inspectors – fewer than one extra per Brigade.
LFB funding – a comparative perspective
HMICFRS acknowledge that LFB is the busiest Brigade in the UK. Brigade chiefs argue they deal with the most complex operating environment in the world due to the combination of built environment, national infrastructure, and population factors.
LFB have 0.52 firefighters per capita, compared to 0.58 national average. Though LFB’s cost per firefighter is £26.93 per year per person (£22.08 national average), they are a full-time service and have higher salary and operating costs owing to London costs.
In 2016, the Mayer review (commissioned by Sadiq Khan) into LFB’s resources said the Brigade could not shoulder any further reductions “if it is to have sufficient resources to meet the challenges of the future, and to keep Londoners safe”.
 GLA consolidated budget 2020/21, GLA, March 2020 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/finalbudget_march20.pdf
 DMFD71 delivering our strategy: incident command, GLA, 22 June 2020 https://www.london.gov.uk/decisions/dmfd71-delivering-our-strategy-incident-command
 Proposed fire inspector numbers are “gross underestimate” of building safety crisis”, Fire Safety Matters, 30 June 2020 https://www.fsmatters.com/Fire-inspector-numbers-underestimate-crisis
 LFB, HMICFRS, accessed 1 July 2020 https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs/fire-and-rescue-services/london/
 No further cuts to London Fire Brigade, GLA, 2 November 2016 https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/overall-the-service-has-coped-well-with-cuts