|Matt Wrack speaking at the rally|
By New Worker Correspondent
THE LONDON Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) last Monday voted to reject plans to close 12 fire stations, cut 18 fire engines and 520 jobs after a fierce debate.
The plan was put forward by London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, in a bid to cut the London fire service budget by £45 million.
But it was opposed by Labour on safety grounds. The authority voted by nine to eight in favour of a Labour amendment, deleting any references to station closures, appliance reductions and job losses in any future public consultation, that was backed by the Greens and Liberal Democrats.
Outside the meeting in Union Street south London, around 1,000 firefighters, along with other trade unionists and supporters assembled to protest noisily at the proposed cuts.
The lobby was called by the London region of the Fire Brigades Union and supported by other unions, including the RMT taxi drivers’ section and the National Union of Teachers.
FBU London regional secretary, Paul Embery, called on people to attend the rally: “The proposed cuts are reckless and wrong. You can’t slash 12 fire stations, 18 fire engines and 520 firefighter posts without jeopardising public safety.
“The helicopter crash that occurred last week showed the importance of having a properly-funded, well-resourced fire service in the capital, and it is worthy of note that the first crew at the scene was mobilised from a station – Clapham – earmarked for closure and arrived within four minutes.
“The safety of Londoners is playing second fiddle to crude economic considerations. We are calling on the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Ron Dobson, and Boris Johnson to think again. If they don’t, we will campaign as vigorously as we can, alongside the public, to defend London’s fire service.”
Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the FBU, spoke of the need to oppose the Government’s austerity programme on all fronts and to contemplate national strikes. And he challenged the Fire Commissioner’s hypocrisy in claiming that the fire service is meetings its targets in arrival times.
“That’s because they keep changing the target times. Of course they meet the targets because they set them. It used to be three minutes in London, then five minutes and now eight minutes.
“And we all know that those extra minutes make the difference in saving lives or having to drag bodies out of buildings.”
He linked the FBU fight to other battles to save vital services, such as defending NHS hospitals from cuts.
The list of stations that had been earmarked for closure include Belsize, Bow, Clapham, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, New Cross, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich.
LFEPA has voted against the cuts but London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has ultimate power over the fire authority, said he will "ensure" the consultation continues.
"This consultation will continue as planned. I will be issuing a mayoral directive to ensure it does."