London could lose 500 firefighters and one in six of its fire engines under new cost-cutting measures proposed by its Tory leadership. Fire authority chairman Brian Coleman has ordered an investigation into the feasibility of removing 27 tenders from the brigade’s 169-strong fleet.
Each tender is manned by four crews of five firefighters — meaning that 20 jobs could be cut for each fire engine taken off the road. Engines would be taken from fire stations with two pumps to avoid closures.
The proposal was described as inflammatory and comes after the Fire Brigades Union called off a bonfire night strike following two earlier walkouts.
But Mr Coleman said the FBU action — during which the capital’s emergency fire cover was provided by 700 private contractors using 27 fire engines — had highlighted an apparent surplus of equipment and firefighters.
The 27 engines remain “off the run” and are being held on stand-by at a depot in Ruislip in the event of future strikes. The brigade has also been operating with FBU staff refusing to work overtime as part of their action against proposed shift changes. London has about 5,500 frontline firefighters.
But Mr Coleman said: “We are really grateful to the FBU for showing us that there are possible efficiencies. The union has banned overtime for two to three months and London doesn’t seem to have come to a halt.”
Brigade officers are due to report within a fortnight on the savings. The brigade is facing a 25 per cent cut in government funding — which makes up 60 per cent of its budget — over the next four years. It is understood that 260 firefighters are able to retire immediately, having completed 30 years’ service. Other posts would be cut through two years of “natural wastage” and a continued recruitment freeze.
Mike Tuffey a Lib-Dem member of the fire authority, said: “In the very same week that the fire union and management are finally sitting down and talking it is truly extraordinary that Brian Coleman should produce this rabbit out of the hat’ proposal. His badly-timed proposal will only fuel the worst fears of the workforce.
“The Mayor must overrule Brian Coleman and make it crystal clear to Londoners that next year’s budget will not see any ill thought-out cuts to front-line fire services.”
From the London Evening Standard