Dismore welcomes extra cash for Fire Brigade but questions Mayor over Future Finances

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM welcomed the Mayor’s extra £15m awarded to the London Fire Brigade for 2021/22 but questioned London Mayor Sadiq Khan over the future financial settlement for London Fire Brigade.

Mr Dismore asked the Mayor:
‘It is the case isn’t it, that the Government have made promises to other parts of the country about ‘levelling up’, promising them the same funding and opportunities as London.  However, when it comes to fire and rescue, London has 0.52 firefighters per capita, compared to the 0.58 national average. So as well as receiving comparatively low levels of funding globally, LFB is also receiving comparatively low levels of funding nationally. If London were to be operating at the national average it would have 535 more firefighters than at present, coincidentally almost the exact number of firefighter posts cut by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor. How much extra funding should the Government provide so as to level London up to the national average for firefighter numbers?’

‘Can I say that the additional £15 million funding for LFB you have announced for next year is very welcome, as it will mean the Brigade can avoid cuts when facing ever-growing pressures, dealing with the consequences of Grenfell and the cladding crisis, the long overdue new legislation at last coming through, and the impact of the Covid pandemic. However, in the medium term, serious budget pressures remain, and international comparisons show that the London Fire Brigade is underfunded, when looking at similar world cities with complex built environments, for example Tokyo, New York, Toronto or Paris. LFB receives £43 per head of population, less than half the international average of £91.  Do you think the Government understand the risks caused by poor building regulation that have compromised safety in London’s built environment and is it serious about keeping London safe?

The Mayor said that yesterday’s vote in Parliament gives the impression that the Government don’t care about fire safety. They had had the opportunity to put into statute the recommendations of the Grenfell Phase 1 inquiry, but they chose not to. Leaseholders still live in potential death traps because they can’t afford the cost of remediation. The Government’s announcement of help to remove cladding on buildings over 8 metres is welcome, but the loan scheme for buildings of between 11 and 18 metres does not work. This adds pressure on the LFB, as the built environment isn’t good enough. If the Government “got it” there would be additional funding to support this work, as well as for more inspections.

The LFB is doing work on its post transformational need, which will give a better idea of the firefighter numbers needed. The Commissioner has regular conversations with the Prime Minister’s team about the secondary legislation, which will have an impact on the service’s funding needs over and above what it already receives.

The Mayor agreed with Mr Dismore’s definition of levelling up, which shows that the LFB is poorly funded in comparison to other global cities, and in comparison to other British fire and rescue services.

Notes for editors

Global Comparisons between Fire and Rescue Services

Since 2016 the Government have reduced the funding grant to LFB, with the Mayor stating at the Budget and Performance Committee on 5 January 2021, that the amount of money received from the Government towards paying for the fire service is inadequate. He said: “City Hall spends £20 million more on the fire service than the Government would like us to, based on Government assumptions”.

The LFB paper ‘LFB Global Comparisons’ has highlighted the funding challenges that LFB faces compared to global counterparts. The paper compares the funding provided for the Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) of different global cities. It suggests that, compared to other global cities operating in complex built environments, LFB is receiving significantly less funding per head of population and less than half of the average costs. (see Table 1)

In addition, LFB’s budget is lower as a proportion of London’s GDP compared to that of other global cities. (See Table 2)

Whilst there are different operating models among the FRSs with some taking on more responsibilities than LFB, London and Toronto operate in similar ways. Even here London is significantly underfunded, receiving nearly 2 and a half times less funding per head of population and one third less of its GDP. In comparison London covers a population more than three times bigger (London has 8,961,989 compared to Toronto’s 2,731,571) and is two and a half times larger (London has 1572km2 compared to Toronto’s 630km2).

London and the UK

LFB operates in a complex built environment, with ACM and other forms of dangerous cladding posing a significant risk and requiring additional monitoring and auditing work by LFB. There are 590 buildings in London where waking watches are being currently undertaken.[1] The latest building safety data release recorded that London has 250 buildings over 18m with ACM cladding, more than half of UK’s total.[2] The building Safety Fund, which administers funding for buildings over 18m with other forms of dangerous cladding has received registrations from 1628 buildings in London, 58% of total registrations.[3] Neither of these funding pots admit applications from buildings under 18m, which present an unknown level of risk.

The work of the Brigade has stepped up to address the safety risks of London’s built environment, with LFB required to provide 7(2)(d) visits to 8000 buildings across the capital. 6000 of these visits have now taken place, with the work continuing during lockdown.[4] The 2019/20 LFB Budget Submission made in November 2019 records additional spending of nearly £100,00 to create posts that support the monitoring of high-rise buildings post-Grenfell.[5] The Brigade also undertakes monitoring of buildings where a waking watch is present, inspecting communal areas and fire safety doors to understand potential risks.

The LFC told the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee that “we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to 15 years.”[6] The DMFR told FREP committee that “we’re learning more about the problems with the built environment on an almost daily basis through some of the Grenfell Inquiry questioning.[7]

Whilst London has significant risks within its built environment, it has less resources than other parts of the UK. HMICFRS have stated that “The London Fire Brigade is well resourced.”[8]LFB has less firefighters per 1000 of the local population than the national average (0.52 compared to 0.58).[9] If London were to be operating at the national average it would have 535 more firefighters than at present.

For further information call Andrew Dismore on 07957 625 813, number not for publication.

[1] London Assembly, ‘Budget and Performance Committee 10th December 2020 Appendix 2’. [Date Accessed 11.01.21]

[2] Gov.uk, ‘Building safety programme: monthly data release January 2020’, 11 February 2021.

[3] Gov.uk, ‘Registrations to the Building Safety Fund,’ date accessed 22 February 2021

[4] London.gov, ‘London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee 13th October 2020 Appendix 3’ [Date accessed 10.11.20]

[5] London Fire Brigade, ‘Budget Submission 2019-20’ [Date accessed 09.12.20]

[6] London. gov, ‘Budget and Performance Committee 22nd September 2020 appendix 2’ [Date accessed 14.10.20]

[7] London.gov, FREP Committee, 16th December 2020. Youtube recording available here

[8] HMICFRS, ‘Fire and Rescue Service: Effectiveness, efficiency and people 2018/19’, 17 December 2019

[9] HMICFRS, ‘London Fire Brigade’, date accessed 22 February 2021