We support the reforms to the governance of the London fire brigade. I will not oppose the clause, but I will speak with some sadness about why we have come to support the abolition of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.
It is fair to say that the effectiveness of the authority has been hampered by the London Mayor and his use of direction. He has repeatedly used direction to overturn the democratic decisions of the fire authority members. The power of direction was intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances; unfortunately, the Mayor has used it almost routinely. He has made more than a dozen formal directions, including to secure the biggest cuts to the London fire brigade in its 150 years, closing 10 fire stations, losing 552 firefighters’ posts and axing 14 fire engines. Alternative proposals would have meant that stations did not need to close, but despite nine out of 10 of those taking part in a public consultation being opposed to the closures, the Mayor prevailed.
The Mayor did not stop there. Fire authority members have a duty to sell former fire stations for the best consideration, but they were unable to sell them, for example, for key worker or social housing. I understand that the Mayor then intervened in the sales process, trying to sell former fire stations to the Education Funding Agency for free schools at lower than the market price. The Mayor’s involvement even politicised the process to recruit a replacement commissioner for the London fire brigade. Traditionally, there has been cross-party consensus on the approach to take, but now the whole recruitment process has been deferred until after the election this May, in effect creating a two-year hiatus. There are more examples, but the point is clear: Labour supports the clause and the abolition of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority because the Mayor has made the existing arrangements untenable through disregard of the views of other elected representatives.