Fire cuts will create “winners and losers” amid longer response times – London fire chief
PUBLISHED: 11:54 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 17:43 29 May 2013
London Fire Brigade chief Ron Dobson has admitted “winners and losers” will emerge from £45million cuts to the force’s budget.
The London Fire Commissioner’s comments came as he clashed with angry protesters at a fiery Islington Town Hall meeting on Tuesday over plans to close Clerkenwell and Kingsland fire stations.
Mr Dobson opened the meeting by insisting that, despite increased response times, savings could be made “without making London a less safe place”.
However, when asked about increased first fire engine response times of more than two minutes for Clerkenwell ward residents, he said: “I’m not saying it can’t be the difference between life and death.” He added: “There are going to be winners and losers.”
Cries of “sham”, “shocking”, “disgrace” and “rubbish” were hurled at the fire chief during the meeting where several Islington firefighters rallied to urge a U-turn.
Islington councillors Terry Stacy, Richard Greening and Paul Convery lambasted the cuts while accusing Mr Dobson and London Mayor Boris Johnson – who has approved the cuts – of risking lives.
Protesters argued that Islington would be disproportionately hit because it has more high-rise towers than any other London borough, meaning it can take longer for crews to reach fires.
The situation could potentially be exacerbated by four new skyscrapers – one nearly as tall as the Gherkin – to be built at the City Road Basin and Forum sites.
The cuts are part of a plan to lose 12 fire stations, 18 engines and 520 firefighters across the capital.
Mr Dobson said: “It’s a balanced plan. It’s about having a balanced approach, not just more and more fire stations. It’s not just about operational response times.”
However, figures released by the Brigade show the worst affected wards are Clerkenwell, which would see first engine response times rise by nearly 50 per cent from 4.19 to 6.26 minutes, and Mildmay from 5.44 to 6.41 – missing the force’s six-minute target.
Jennette Arnold, Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney and Islington, said: “What disappoints me most today is Boris’s lack of ambition for this city’s fire service.
“This is a strategy which seeks to close the busiest stations and leave the quiet ones alone. It’s madness.”
The required savings amount to 0.4 per cent of the Greater London Authority’s total budget – something described by GLA Labour member Andrew Dismore as “small change down the back of Boris’s sofa”.
Opponents are urging protesters to join a march against the cuts on Saturday, June 8, starting at Highbury Fields at 1pm and walking on to a rally in Spa Fields.
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