Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s plan to close Clerkenwell and Kingsland fire stations and lose a fire engine from Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone fire stations was yesterday approved when his fire deputy used his casting vote to force through cuts to the Fire Service. I have consistently opposed the Mayor’s plans to cut 10 fire stations and 14 fire engines across London.
The Mayor issued a legal direction to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) to force them to comply with his cuts plan. LFEPA sought legal guidance on whether they could challenge the Mayoral Direction in the courts. However, the legal guidance received clearly states that there is no legal basis to challenge the Mayoral Direction and any court case would be lost.
The legal opinion by a leading QC means that if the cuts had been challenged in court the Authority would have lost and potentially cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees. The extra delay could also have led to compulsory redundancy of firefighters and even greater cuts to the service.
The Mayor was also presented with another chance to change his position today when LFEPA passed a motion calling on the Mayor to abandon his Mayoral Direction. LFEPA have asked the Fire Commissioner to investigate alternative crewing arrangements for aerial appliances, fire and rescue units and the possible removal of a small number of each. It is believed the savings generated would be enough to cover the shortfall caused by the Mayor’s cut to the Fire Authority.
LFEPA has already seen cuts of £71million in back office savings, however to pay for his penny a day council tax cut the Mayor has cut the fire budget. The approval of LFEPA for the Mayor’s fire cuts was forced through by Boris’ appointed chair of LFEPA, James Cleverly AM, who used his casting vote to approve the plan.
I am deeply disappointed that Boris’ cuts have now been forced through and that Clerkenwell and Kingsland fire stations will now close and that Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone fire stations will also lose a fire engine. Together with my Labour Assembly Members at City Hall, I wanted to continue the fight in court. However, the legal advice we received has categorical and clearly stated we had no legal basis to challenge the Mayor in this way. If we had gone down this route then we would have spent a large amount of taxpayers’ money fighting a futile battle. Today we have offered the Mayor a way out and avoid cuts to the stations and engines. Let’s hope he finally listens to Londoners and drops his reckless plan.
Last year the Mayor announced funding cuts and plans to axe 31 fire stations and 36 fire engines. It is some consolation that, by working with Londoners, we have saved up to 21 fire stations that were under threat of closure over the past months. It is a disgrace that Boris has not used his power and resources to fully fund the London Fire Brigade and keep the other ten open as well. He is putting Londoners at risk and making our great city less safe. The public have spoken with one clear voice; the overwhelming majority do not want these cuts and want to protect frontline fire services.
Boris may be celebrating, but today Londoners have lost. He should hang his head in shame. The London Fire Brigade does a fantastic job keeping us all safe and secure when we are at our most vulnerable. It is a testament to Boris’ cavalier approach and arrogance that he has not listened to Londoners and protected frontline services.