Some may see the above scene as lachrymose. But if so, they don’t know firefighters very well. Just hours before the Green Watch crew from Clerkenwell saw their station close forever, the team went out on its last callout. Said fire officer Greg Edwards, “I just feel that it’s a disgrace that they can shut a fire station so close to the City, the third busiest in London.”
I think it’s beyond disgrace, it’s insane: more austerity with no thought given to the consequences.
As for the amount of money allegedly to be saved, well, as usual BoJo tried to big it up by saying £45m was a sizeable saving. In fact, he later had to correct that number down, er, rather a lot, because the actual amount saved by the closures was just under £29m.
So let’s have a look at areas of Mayoral expenditure that – who knows? – one might have thought could go before removing a staggering 29 fire engines and 552 firemen from a service already hampered by London’s gigantic traffic problems.
To put things into an empirical perspective as opposed to spin doctor angles, total Mayoral expenditure in the last 2013-14 fiscal was budgeted at £1.58 billion. The fire service savings represent just 1.8% of the total budget. Fire deaths in London went up 13% last year: even before the changes, 267 of London’s 624 wards were outside the target response time….perhaps explaining the increase in deaths. When I was at school, the extrapolation from that would’ve been more deaths still in 2014-15.
But that didn’t budge BoJo one millimetre. Despite a lengthy battle in the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and Courts to try and overturn the plans, all objections were overruled by Boris Johnson who had to use his casting vote to get them through. The Mayor preferred the 7p a week Council tax cut he was able to give London’s better off to providing proper fire protection for London’s worst off. Plus ca change….but if this stunt goes tits-up, the Mayor will have to take full and personal responsibility.
Anyway, to the details on that’s the way the money goes, pop goes the old TV plug and burns everyone alive.
Starting with the Met Police budget (MOPAC). To computerised manipulation of crime figures to keep Boris in office, no hang on, that’s not right. Let’s stick to the facts…and remember that the fire service cuts saved £29 million.
The cost just to run the Met Police Headquarters is a whopping £126m. Ah you say, but that’s vital admin required to
fiddle the numbers keep a close tally on the detail of crime. But if that’s so, what’s this even whoppinger number for ‘control infrastructure’ at £322m? Is the infrastructure completely out of control? I’m going to put this lot down to bureaucrats and fat senior plods in the Flying Desk Squad at £448m….getting on for half a billion quid. A 5% swathe through those budgets could’ve saved the fire service at its original level.
But here’s a belter: the Mayor’s personal Office on policing and crime, £11.2million. Over eleven million quid just to try and stop Plod investigating Newscorp and pervy MPs? And hilariously, “Savings still to be identified – 0′. Hahahahaha.
Now to the administration of the fire service itself. Some more very odd priorities here too. Private Finance Initiative costs (oops, remember all those NHS booboos still off balance sheet?): PFI credit, letting and contract management….£3.5m – or roughly twice the cost of fireman pensions at £1.8m. And a rather funny number called ‘General Reserve’ at £15.3m. Someone should take a forensic look at that little baby.
Moving swiftly on, we arrive later than it says on the timetable at the Mayor’s favourite toy, Transport for London (TfL). There is a £181m contingency budget for TfL. We don’t think that, to maintain a proper First World grown-up fire service, it might have been worth shaving expectations on that one by 15%?
The point being made here is simple: there were myriad ways in which Mayor Johnson could’ve kept the fire service going…or even improved it. But there are no votes for him in it: people prefer Council Tax cuts for themselves to modernisation of a service more likely to be needed by the poor who don’t fit smoke alarms. It’s just more anti-social neoliberal bollocks.
However, there’s a very big elephant in BoJo’s office, and it’s kind of gone off the radar since 2012: how much did the Olympic Games cost? And what was the return on it? There’s a whole mountain range of bollocks to that one. And it’s coming to a Slog near you soon.