Opinion: Conservative funding failure threatens frontline policing and fire fighting
- Credit: Archant
As Covid-19 lockdown eases, so we see the impact on City Hall’s services.
Given the current estimate of 7 per cent loss of council tax and 11pc business rates, City Hall faces a shortfall of £493 million over two years, unless the government helps - but as they announced only £500m for the whole country, the Conservatives are short changing London yet again.
TfL already has needed a £1.6bn Covid emergency bailout (including £500m repayable loan) due to losing 90pc of fare income. The Conservative government extracted a high price. Their ultimatum raises fares, cuts services, concessions, and increases charges - all enforced by government appointees on TfL’s board - demands the mayor couldn’t resist, if TfL wasn’t to go bust. Even so, TfL will have to find yet more cuts of £287million towards the overall GLA Covid budget gap. The mayor is proposing to leave City Hall, saving £55m in rent, moving us all to Docklands. However, it’s the impact on our emergency services which is most worrying, with their critical public safety roles and the cuts they’ve already faced over the last decade at the hands of the Conservatives.
The government has already forced £850m of cuts on the Met since 2010. It’s only this year that the mayor’s and government’s extra funding enabled the Met to grow to 32,400 officers – up by 800 from when Sadiq Khan became mayor. Sadiq is using his budget reserves to retain this year’s recruits, but the cash crisis is undermining efforts to bring in the originally expected thousands more officers – that growth is also risked by the £110 million more the police have to save to meet the Covid gap.
As chairman of City Hall’s fire committee, what I find especially worrying, are the finances of London Fire Brigade. Under then Mayor Boris Johnson, the LFB had to make £100m of cuts, including losing 10 fire stations and over 500 firefighter jobs. In 2016, Anthony Mayer, who headed City Hall under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, independently reviewed LFB’s resources. He said the brigade could not shoulder any further reductions “if it is to have sufficient resources to meet the challenges of the future, and to keep Londoners safe” - and that was before the Grenfell tragedy.
Both the Grenfell Inquiry and the Fire Services Inspectorate report which swiftly followed found that major changes were needed. The new fire commissioner has produced his detailed Transformation Plan: key elements are better training, especially in incident command, new procedures and equipment for high-rise firefighting, and control room improvements, all supported by significant culture change. This programme will cost £4 million. The brigade is already using its reserves to help bridge a projected funding gap over the next two years - but now faces more Covid cuts of £25 million. Savings of this magnitude inevitably impact on front line firefighting.
The government needs to take notice and fund London’s services properly - or take full responsibility for the consequences of underfunded emergency services.