Thank you, Chair. Yes, London’s emergency services and service personnel are essential to making our capital city a safe place to live, visit and do business. I am fully supportive of the blue-light collaboration programme in which the emergency services have set out their vision to keep London safe and ensure that collaboration is at the heart of everything they do.
One of my early actions as Mayor was to commission Lord Toby Harris to undertake a review of London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident. He found that significant work had been done to ensure that all agencies can work effectively, especially since the introduction of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles.
The cowardly attacks on our city in 2017 and the tragedy of Grenfell Tower highlighted the strength of the Joint Emergency Services response in the worst possible circumstances, and there will I am sure be an opportunity to learn lessons from the various inquests and inquiries taking place as well.
Although the legal requirement to collaborate only came into effect in 2017, I am proud that London’s emergency services have been collaborating for much longer, working together daily to help and protect the public. My team and I have been privileged to see some of these works in action. In early 2016, before I was elected Mayor, I attended Exercise Unified Response, London’s largest ever multiagency exercise, which included over 100 organisations in its design, planning and delivery. The following year, as Mayor, I attended along with other Assembly Members the blue-light collaboration day that took place in and around Lambeth Fire Station and on the Thames to see how the three emergency services and other key partners prepared together for major incidents. Last month my Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross [AM], attended an exercise led by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to test London’s multiagency response to a corrosive substance attack.
The primary purpose, Chair, of blue-light collaboration is of course to keep people safe, but we must also think about how we can provide an efficient service. I have established a Collaboration Board to build on the existing shared service and collaboration arrangements across and beyond the Greater London Authority (GLA) Group, which includes membership from all three emergency services. The Board is taking a fresh look at Londoners’ best interests without fixating on existing structures and practices. Strong existing relationships are what make this work possible while providing the same world-class blue-light services Londoners deserve.
Yes, thank you, Mr Mayor. I thoroughly agree the services work very hard together and we should be very proud of all of our blue-light services. Do you agree with me that the project in Stratford Fire Station, where there is a room that is used for the area bike paramedic team, is a prime example of blue-light collaboration?
I do, Chair, and I know the Assembly Member visited a number of fire stations. There are other examples in Barnet Fire Station, Heathrow Fire Station, Holloway Fire Station. There are other good examples across our city of that sort of good ‑‑
Yes. I have been to all the fire stations, as you well know. I am very concerned, however, that there is not the same amount of collaboration between the police and the LFB. Where it is logistically and operationally appropriate, surely we should be putting more Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) in our fire stations.
Where possible we are doing so. For example, at Holloway Fire Station, the SNT is there, but the point raised is a really good one. If you think about the public estate - put aside which part of the public sector it is - surely it makes sense to try to share where we can public space.
That is the core of your point. The same, by the way, goes for back office sharing as well. For example, it could be procurement, it could be human resources. As I said - I hope you heard in my first answer to your question - it makes sense when resources are finite as well, and so I agree with the sentiment behind your question.
I will not do again, I am sure. There are 102 fire stations out there. Really we have not done well enough, have we? I am glad you agree. If you agree, three years in, why are we not doing more of it?
The good news is we are doing more and more. One of the things that my Chief of Staff chairs is a joint working group with all the three blue-light services, and there is an appetite. I would not want you to think that any of the commissioners are against greater collaboration. They are. Also, I meet regularly with the LAS, so I would not want you to think, just because they are not under our direct control, they are anti-working together.
Hopefully you will have seen some of the fruits of this in relation to surplus public land and housing. You will have seen in my draft London Plan the expectation is half of the homes on this surplus public land are to be genuinely affordable, and the good news is, through [The Rt Hon] Jeremy Hunt [MP, former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care] devolving some of the NHS’s state stuff to us, we are working with other parts of the public sector to do more. We are working with other parts of the public sector to do more. Hopefully you will see over the next period of time more examples of the fruits.
I am as frustrated as you appear to be in relation to the delay, and you are right. It makes a huge amount of common sense to work together on a whole host of issues.
You are very perceptive, Mr Mayor. I am very frustrated by the delay because we seem very good in this building at having meeting upon meeting upon meeting. What we need is action here. We must look at ways to make efficiencies. This is a prime example of saving money and improving service, and therefore we should be doing far more. Do you not agree with that?
Joy! If you agree with me, will you roll your sleeves up and make sure that this happens? We are three years in. One of your manifesto pledges, and I will quote you here, is, “As Mayor, keeping you, your family and your community safe will be my top priority”. That is not going very well at the moment. You go on to say that “real neighbourhood policing is the top priority”. I 100% agree with that. “A visible local presence. If they are local, they can be our eyes and our ears for our security services.” I 100% agree. Let us get the police officers where they need to be. Very often that is in the local fire station. Will you commit to looking at it and getting this sorted out far quicker than you are doing at the moment?
The problem I had, Chair, was the mess I inherited. Had there been progress made before I became Mayor in this greater collaboration, had there been progress made in trying to work together collegiately with the LFB rather than making massive cuts to their stations, to their engines and their firefighters, had there been greater work done before I became Mayor on the fire service, the ambulance service and the police working together, I could have over something and run with it. As it is though, Chair, I inherited a mess. The first period has been spent trying to win back the trust and confidence of the police service, the fire service, the LAS, and to get people to work together and trust each other.
I hope I will see more progress going forward, and some of that will be front office that people can see, like neighbourhood teams in fire stations like Holloway Fire Station. Some of it will be back office. The public may not see it, but at least money is being saved on procurement and other issues as well. I am hoping there will be more progress made. More progress will be made quicker if the Conservatives agree with the Labour Mayor more than they currently do.
Mr Mayor, you can only blame the Government and you can only blame your predecessor for a certain period of time. You have now been in place three years, and blaming other people is getting very wearing on the rest of us. You need to take a grip of what you should be doing, and one of them is most certainly looking at this particular issue to make London safer. Thank you, Chair.