Dismore questions Mayor over impact of Covid cuts on London Fire Brigade

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM questioned London Mayor Sadiq Khan over the over impact of budget cuts due to Covid on the London Fire Brigade.

The impact of Covid-19 and lockdown has left the GLA needing to address a shortfall of £493m in its income and extra expenditure meaning major cuts to its budget. As a result of these cuts the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is required to make in year savings of up to £10m in 2020/21. The Brigade will also face cuts of up to £15m in its 2021/22 budget. In total the Mayor has asked LFB to make £25m of cuts due to this loss of income. This is coupled with the £10.1m overspend which needs to be addressed, also mainly due to Covid.

Mr Dismore asked the Mayor:

‘What impact will the proposed reductions in finance for the LFB have on its front line, including personnel, fire stations, fire appliances, and specialised equipment?

‘After Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor, cut over 500 firefighter posts and closed 10 fire stations, when you were elected in 2016 you rightly commissioned the Meyer review to examine the impact of the Johnson cuts on the LFB’s core aims around prevention, protection and response. Anthony Mayer is a former Chief Executive of the Greater London Authority.

‘Meyer reported that LFB could not face more front line cuts safely if it was to have the ability to manage effectively civil contingencies as defined by the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act; he  also said  further cuts would particularly affect capacity to manage new challenges and major incidents where the Brigade needed to co-respond with the London Ambulance Service, such as major health emergencies or terrorist attacks. Since then of course, we have seen additional demands due to the consequences of terrorism, the Corona virus and above all .Grenfell. Do you still agree with Meyer’s findings; and do you trust Boris Johnson’s Government to take seriously the risk that an underfunded LFB represents?

‘Whilst proportionally LFB has taken one of the least hits in your in year and next year budget cuts, they are currently facing cuts of £25 million as a result of Covid-19 and its impact on funding to City Hall- all at a time when demand is increasing, for example, the LFC overspent on supplies by £5 million, mainly due to the purchase of extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). What will you do to ensure that there will be no front line Fire Brigade cuts affecting fire and other emergency cover in London?

‘How will progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Grenfell Fire Inquiry Phase 1 report be impacted by cuts to LFB’s budget?

‘The Grenfell Fire Inquiry Report phase 1, published a year ago, included 14 recommendations directed to the LFB. You have rightly committed to implementing them fully, which is being done through the LFB’s Transformation Project, changing root and branch the way the LFB works.

‘You have contributed a welcome £2.2m towards this, however recently the Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience stated that the estimated cost of the Transformation Project was £4.1million, Whilst the demands on the Brigade are ever increasing.

‘The London Fire Commissioner recently told us “we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to 15 years.”  Residential buildings which have been found to pose considerable danger to life from fire – and not just from ACM cladding- now require LFB safety monitoring through fortnightly site visits, with clear financial implications for the Brigade.

‘What impact will the proposed reductions to LFB finances have on its ability to deliver on the Grenfell Fire report recommendations and to complete its transformation project?

‘It is the case, isn’t it, that the LFB has received no additional Government funding to help implement the Grenfell 1 report’s recommendations? It’s also  the case that the Government previously failed  to provide the  necessary additional funding to the LFB, soon  after the 2017 Grenfell fire , when the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused the required £6m for new equipment and £6m for revenue costs, for example for more Fire Safety Inspecting Officers  to restore those cut by Boris Johnson.

‘And it’s also the case, isn’t it, that  the Government  voted against Labour’s amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, and by doing so refused to give legal force to  the Grenfell 1 Report’s recommendations, which would  have required flat owners or building managers in England and Wales to:

·       Share information with their local fire service about the design of external walls and the materials used

·       Carry out regular inspections of lifts and individual flat entrance doors; and

·       Share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building

 ‘Do you think it is fair to say that all this shows the Conservative Government to be at best indifferent to supporting the LFB’s work to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Fire Inquiry Phase 1 and to keep Londoners safe? ‘

The Mayor said that The GLA group faces a £431 million budget shortfall over the next two years due to COVID 19, but he had asked the Fire Brigade and police to take the smallest cuts possible. Through the use of reserves the cuts over the next two years will be £5 million and £15 million, and he is awaiting the results of further work on the budget in November.

The Brigade had accepted the recommendations of the Grenfell phase 1 report in full, and that he had instructed the Commissioner to ensure that work continued on delivering the recommendations despite the cuts. The Brigade’s transformation plan is helping to deliver these changes, and the recommendations of the inspectorate report. Despite COVID, good progress is being made, and the LFB have taken delivery of the new 32 metre turntable ladders, with the 64 metre appliances arriving early next year.

He said that it was important that the current financial circumstances should not be allowed to prevent the work of the transformation plan continuing. There is a challenge to undertake a transformation whilst making savings, and he had sought assurances from the Commissioner that there wouldn’t be compromises made on public safety.

The additional requirements placed on the LFB due to the Grenfell phase 1 and Inspectorate reports come without additional funding from the Government, who also voted against enshrining the recommendations into law. He confirmed that he had had good talks with ministers about providing more financial support, but the previous Mayor himself cut 10 fire stations, 550 firefighter posts and 27 appliances, but he was committed to giving firefighters the support they need to keep the public safe. The Mayor also confirmed that  the Commissioner was committed to maintaining response times of 6 minutes on average for a first appliance to arrive, and 8 minutes for a second. He will also be consulting with staff and unions, who are concerned about both their members and Londoners as a whole.