Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s plan to close Westminster and Knightsbridge fire stations was yesterday approved when his fire deputy used his casting vote to force through cuts to the Fire Service. The plans to cut 10 fire stations and 14 fire engines have been consistently opposed by Labour London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi AM and opposition members on the fire authority.
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.
London wide Labour London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi AM said:
“We are all deeply disappointed that Boris’ cuts have now been forced through and that Westminster and Knightsbridge fire station will now close. We wanted to continue the fight in court. However, the legal advice we received was 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.
“We oppose these cuts and have done so since they were first announced. By working with Londoners we have saved up to 21 fire stations that were under threat of closure. 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.”
“Last year the Mayor announced funding cuts and plans to axe 31 fire stations and 36 fire engines. In the face of concerted opposition from Londoners this was reduced to 12 fire stations and 14 fire engines. Following further pressure throughout a fraught consultation this year the Mayor eventually decided to reprieve Clapham Common and New Cross Fire Stations and reverse his decision to cut the second fire appliance at Chelsea Fire Station. East Greenwich Fire Station also received an additional second appliance that was transferred from Woolwich Fire Station.
- Murad Qureshi AM is a Labour London wide Assembly Member.
- The full LFEPA Authority meeting documents can be found here: http://moderngov.london-fire.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=303&T=10
- The amendment to the Supplementary Budget Report by the Fiona Twycross AM can be found here:
B. In response to the clearly expressed views of Londoners, this Authority asks the Mayor to abandon his direction and work with the Authority to meet the budget gap for 2014/15 through the potential savings noted at the Resources Committee as an alternative to cutting frontline fire stations and appliances.
Moved by: Dr Fiona Twycross AM
Seconded by: Cllr Peter Truesdale