London fire brigade to cut 520 jobs

Brigade confident it can maintain response targets despite proposal to close 12 fire stations in effort to save £45m

Twelve London fire stations are to close with the loss of 520 jobs under proposals designed to help the London fire brigade (LFB) save £45.4m over the next two years.

Despite the proposed cuts, the brigade – which has 169 fire engines and 112 fire stations – said it would be able to maintain its target of getting a first engine to an emergency within six minutes, and a second within eight.

Under the plans, stations in Belsize, Bow, Clapham, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, New Cross, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich would close, while seven stations would have the number of engines halved from two to one. Four stations would each gain an engine.

The proposals would leave London with around 5,300 firefighters, 151 fire engines, 100 fire stations and one riverboat station.

The LFB said it was confident the proposed reduction in the number of firefighters could be made without compulsory redundancies, with a recruitment freeze, retirements and routine departures yielding the necessary numbers.

Ron Dobson, the commissioner of the LFB, said the brigade, like most public services, needed to make savings.

"In the last four years, we have cut £52m without reducing frontline services," he said. "Additional savings cannot be found without making significant changes to how we keep London safe."

Dobson said the past decade had seen a dramatic change in demand for the brigade's services and the time had come to reorganise its resources. According to the LFB, the number of incidents it attends has dropped by 35% in the last 10 years, while the number of fires has dropped by 51%.

"Having spent 33 years as a firefighter serving the capital I know how important it is to respond to incidents as quickly as possible and I have every intention of maintaining our current response time targets for first and second fire engines," Dobson said. "With all the work we do to prevent fires happening, and response times that are still amongst the best in the country, I am confident these savings can be made while keeping London safe."

A spokesman for the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "It is essential that the London fire brigade continues to modernise so that it is equipped to respond to 21st-century firefighting needs. These proposals may mean a slightly smaller estate, but they also include bigger, more efficient and well-equipped modern stations. "Whilst it's right that tough decisions have to be made in times of economic uncertainty, the mayor is resolute that any agreed proposals will not reduce the capital's fire cover, and target response times will be protected."

However, Labour's London assembly fire spokesman, Navin Shah, suggested the LFB was facing a crisis.

"This will reduce fire cover in London; these cuts will put the safety and security of Londoners at risk," he said. "How can cutting 12 of our fire stations be in the best interests of Londoners?"

The proposals will be discussed by the London fire and emergency planning authority on 21 January. The authority is expected to make a decision in late June following a public consultation.


Sam Jones

The GuardianTramp

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