London Fire brigade cuts add to public sector woes
Despite the fact that confidence appears to be returning to certain sectors of the jobs market, London mayor Boris Johnson is planning to add to the capital’s woes in the public sector by closing 10 fire stations, at a loss of 14 fire engines and 552 firefighters across the capital. Yet Johnson insists that the cuts — part of plans to save £28.8 million in London alone — will not impact on public safety, and that fire deaths in the capital are in fact falling.
The proposed plans mean that the London Fire Brigade, which currently employs about 5,500 firefighters, will be left with 155 fire engines at 102 stations. And based on current spending and funding forecasts, the London Fire Brigade expects to see a budget shortfall of £35m for 2014-15.
In a letter to London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) chairman James Cleverly, Johnson said action had to be taken so savings could be made, and that further delays would increase the likelihood of compulsory redundancies having to be made.
The London Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has been vocal in its descent towards the move, describing the mayor’s decision as an “affront to democracy”. As a result we should no doubt expect to see some form of industrial action should the plans be implemented.
According to reports, 94% of Londoners who took part in the public consultation opposed frontline cuts in the London Fire Brigade, and hundreds of Londoners also voiced their opposition at public meetings. The London Fire and Emergency Planning authority, the London Assembly and several local authorities also put their weight behind opposing the cuts, along with other political parties including Labour, the Greens and Liberal Democrats, but to no avail.
Darren Johnson, London Assembly Green Party member, said: “The mayor has completely ignored the concerns of the majority of the London Assembly, the fire authority, and the 94% of residents who responded to his consultation by opposing any station closures.”
Meanwhile, eight of the local authorities, all Labour-run, have subsequently written to Eric Pickles, the cabinet minister who has ultimate responsibility for the fire and rescue service, asking him to overrule the Mayor’s decision.
Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest councils all argue that regardless of the affect on employment levels in their boroughs, the closure plan will disproportionately affect public safety in their areas.
The mayor, who has also been under the spotlight in the jobs press recently over his controversial plans to shut Heathrow airport and create a new super hub in the Thames estuary, insists the cuts are made with the capital’s best interests at heart and there is no way he would put Londoners at risk. However, the debate looks set to run with the aggrieved councils asking Mr Pickles to use his power to order the Mayor to revoke a direction that is inconsistent with the Fire and Rescue National Framework. If he refuses their appeal, the eight councils are then preparing to seek a judicial review of the decision. This could ultimately stymie Johnson’s intent to have his plans actioned by 16 September.
While the decision is not going to have a huge effect on overall employment levels within the capital, it will leave a large number of highly trained firefighters facing the prospect of anything from relocation to retraining in order to find employment elsewhere. And we can expect to see this rattle on for some time. Possibly most disturbingly, though, for the wider jobs market is that this is continued evidence of the ongoing effects of government cuts on the public services sector, which look set to continue for several years to come… regardless of buoyancy elsewhere in the jobs market.