CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

THIN RED LINE: No comment? We chase London Mayor Boris Johnson for answers on fire cuts

26 November, 2015

THE Mayor of London was on the run this week as the New Journal looked for answers to pressing questions about station closures and fire brigade cuts.

It is more than five weeks since pensioner Choi Yip jumped to his death as he waited for fire crews that arrived seven minutes behind schedule, but Boris Johnson has largely evaded scrutiny over firefighters’ claims that funding cuts ordered at City Hall were responsible for the delay.

Although the final decision on the cuts was made by Mr Johnson, his office declined to comment when approached by the New Journal in the wake of Mr Yip’s death.

With no other means of reaching the Mayor, our reporters decided to take the question directly to him by tracking him down on Tuesday morning.

As he left an event in Islington, Mr Johnson refused to answer any of our questions. Insisting he was “15 minutes late for my next meeting”, the Mayor, chaperoned by two press officers, skipped across a busy road, unlocked his bike and began to cycle off within a matter of seconds. 

Press officers try to intervene as the New Journal asks Boris Johnson to comment

But he was forced to stop at a red light, where we caught up with him and pressed again for an explanation.

Pushed on why it took the first fire engine 13 minutes and 21 seconds – more than double the six-minute target – to arrive at the blaze in Ashton Court, Camden Road, Mr Johnson blamed the diversion of resources to a Finchley Road blaze at the time. 

Sat astride his bike, he said: “As I recall there was a 10-pump fire at another location, which in any event would have absorbed all the capacity.”

Mr Johnson pedalled away and refused to answer when asked if the London Fire Brigade (LFB) could therefore no longer hit targets when dealing with two fires simultaneously. 

Since Mr Yip’s death there has been at least three 8-pump fires, two 10-pump fires and one involving 20 pumps.

In 2014, 10 stations, including nearby Belsize and Clerkenwell, were closed, while 14 fire engines and 600 jobs were lost. Before the closures, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), which controls the LFB’s budget, had voted against the cuts in the face of public outrage. But, using his mayoral powers, Mr Johnson singlehandedly overruled the authority and forced through the cuts. 

We chase Boris Johnson for answers on his fire service cuts

Firefighters have repeatedly said they believe that if the cuts had not been introduced they would have been able to arrive at Ashton Court in time to save the life of Mr Yip, who one neighbour said had no choice but to jump to escape flames. 

Plans to scrap another 13 fire engines to cut £11million from next year’s budget are due to be considered next month. 

A press official from the Mayor’s office said in a statement: “LFEPA, alongside all public bodies, is facing the need to make efficiency savings. However, no decisions have been taken and any proposal to make cuts will be the subject of a public consultation exercise.”

In response to questions that the Mayor refused to answer in person, the press official said: “It is not accepted that the LFB can no longer deal with two emergencies at once. Frontline services and the safety of Londoners remain the Mayor’s top priority. 

“The London Fire Brigade continues to do an excellent job and continues to meet its city-wide target to attend the scene of an emergency within an average time of six minutes, with a second engine within eight minutes.”

 

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