Boris helps to swing the axe

On April 12, the London Ambulance Service announced that it would be cutting 890 jobs. This is a result of the Conservative-led Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Over the next five years, £53 million is to be removed from a proposed budget of £262 million – a 21 per cent cut. As 80 per cent of London Ambulance Services costs are staff, such savings are not possible without job losses. So 560 jobs will be cut from ambulance crews – who are as frontline as they come. A further 330 posts will be removed from the management and support services.

These job cuts, equating to nearly 18 per cent of the total of highly trained staff, come in a climate of rising demand, with emergency calls up by 43,500 in 2010 from 2009. That’s a 4.5 per cent annual increase in demand. This is part of a continued increase in demand, which has seen a 30 per cent rise between 2000 and 2008.

The London Ambulance Service is probably the capital’s busiest emergency service. In 2009, it responded to nearly one million calls compared to the London Fire Brigade’s 330,000 responses to emergency calls. The Olympics are likely to place further demands next summer.

London’s emergency services are also under threat because of the ongoing financial woes of Assetco, the owners of London’s fire engines, which looks to be heading into administration.

A recent parliamentary question tabled by Hayes and Harlington Labour MP John McDonnell reminded the Government that: “What is happening could put fire safety in London at risk”.

Against this backdrop of rising demand, planned cuts and ailing service providers, I asked the London Mayor when he was first made aware of cuts to the ambulance service and what, if anything, he was doing to mitigate their effects.

Boris Johnson declined to answer the question, insisting that he was not accountable for the National Health Service or the London Ambulance Service. Certainly if his friends in the coalition are not prepared to keep him in the loop about impending cuts, then clearly he won’t have the opportunity to make a case against them.

Yet the Mayor has been given a key role in London’s emergency planning in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, working with the London Resilience Partnership and London Regional Resilience Forum. And he is currently in discussions about having a greater role in overseeing the London Ambulance Service as he has with other emergency services in the capital.

His response to my second question was a load of flannel about having been reassured by NHS London and the London Ambulance Service that these cuts can be managed while maintaining the high quality service expected by patients.

So much for the “Stalingrad” style of defence of London’s public services promised by Boris Johnson – services which voters were led to believe would be ring-fenced. The Mayor has failed to protect vital public services and is clearly acquiescing in the cuts agenda of the coalition Government.

Murad Qureshi is a Labour member of the London Assembly

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