Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 10th February 2022.
Can the Mayor set out what actions are being taken as a result of the fact that a third of fire appliances were not able to run on Christmas Day?
Can I begin by thanking you for your advocacy for our blue light services ever since I have been Mayor? I am really grateful for that and I am sure they and Londoners are as well. The LFB has been on the front line throughout the COVID-19 response. Like all other emergency services, it faced staffing challenges during earlier waves of the pandemic and again more recently due to the spread of the Omicron variant. Those challenges were an important factor in my decision to declare a major incident on 18 December . This enabled us to set up coordination arrangements between key public services through the reestablishment of the SCG to address the pressures facing the city.
The Christmas period that has just passed was a challenging one for the LFB with significant numbers of staff off work due to COVID-19, and this led to lower numbers of appliances being available for service. On Christmas Day, the LFB had 50 pumps off the run. However, this did not impact the emergency cover that was provided to Londoners across the capital. I can confirm that the Brigade has consistently met its attendance targets throughout the pandemic to get the first fire engine to an incident within a London-wide average of six minutes, and a second fire engine within a London-wide average of eight minutes. This did not change over the Christmas period.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Brigade has actively monitored the situation through its COVID-19 Working Group and the Brigade Coordination Centre (BCC). Rigorous planning was undertaken before Christmas to prepare for the impact of possible staff shortages, current and predicted sickness levels were scrutinised, and plans were prepared to ensure the LFB maintained as many operational resources as possible. This included moving resources and postponing training where necessary to maximise the number of operational staff available to crew fire appliances. The BCC ensured that officers were briefed to make dynamic proactive and reactive decisions on what activities and training to reduce in order to maximise the availability of resources on a day-to-day basis. The LFB also worked closely with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to promote the use of pre-arranged overtime. My Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience and I continue to speak on a regular basis with the London Fire Commissioner about the ongoing impact of the pandemic to ensure that London has the emergency cover it needs. There are now early signs that staff numbers are improving, and we hope to see this continue.
I want to take this opportunity, Chair, to thank the LFB, all the blue light services and other key workers for their work during the holiday period, particularly with the significant challenges provided by Omicron.
The reason why, Chair, I really welcome your question and the issue you have raised now is just to give you an idea of the numbers. This Christmas, 413 staff were off; last Christmas 2020 it was 159. That is why your question is so pertinent. I am confident because what the Commissioner with the FBU and others is doing is planning for that eventuality. One of the reasons we were keen to declare a major incident after I consulted with the blue light services and others was because of staff absences. The good news is because most of our staff had the vaccines, those consequences were not as serious and they were back to work pretty quickly, but also the teamwork from the LFB was really good, cancelling some of the non-urgent training and the pre-arranged overtime. The good news, you will be pleased to know, is that even though 35% of our pumps were off, quality of service stayed good and that is a good example of good leadership on this occasion.
Yes, it is indeed. All my questions are pertinent, Mr Mayor, but anyway, just so you know.
No, you could try. You could try to answer them, Mr Mayor. That would really make my day.
I think you agree more with [the Rt Hon] Boris Johnson [MP, Prime Minister] than I do about decency.
It stopped for reasons that are well rehearsed and I think 2 December  is when it stopped. By the way, we should thank those 500 firefighters who really did help out the LAS at its time of need, but for good reasons the LFB could not carry on that, I think it is, Operation Braidwood. The LFB continues to talk to the LAS to see where there is mutual help that we can give, as indeed does the MPS, but clearly what the Commissioner has got to do is to make sure he can look after his own and the responsibilities he has. What he cannot do is jeopardise that, with the best of intentions.
Just to reassure you, although there is better teamwork - and you rightly, as Chairman of the Budget and Performance Committee, asked for greater collaboration - that should not jeopardise the core business each one of those blue lights does. The reassurance I have had, which you will have at the relevant time from the Commissioner, is none of the work the LFB does is compromised by the teamwork, but they will always look for ways to save resources, work together, learn from each other and so forth.