Row over £283,000 fire website upgrade as Hackney fire engine is set for axe
PUBLISHED: 13:54 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 10:43 25 November 2015
'Scrapping IT system would be false economy' say Conservatives
A row has broken out at City Hall about plans to pay £283,000 to upgrade the London Fire Brigade’s website when 13 fire engines are under threat of being axed to save money.
The brigade wants to scrap one of Hackney’s fire engines, in Shoreditch, in a bid to slash £11million from next year’s budget.
It comes under proposals to scrap 13 engines across the capital to balance the books.
But Labour members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) say implementing alternate fire crewing and ditching a website upgrade should be considered instead of losing pumps.
‘More cuts could have dire consequences’
London Assembly Member for Hackney Jennette Arnold has criticised plans to permanently scrap one of the borough’s fire engines.
She said: “The Mayor of London has already axed 14 fire engines and closed 10 London fire stations, including Kingsland in Hackney, the predictable result was that the time it takes fire engines to reach incidents increased.
“There is little doubt that the mayor’s plan to axe another 13 engines could have dire consequences for Londoners and would put lives at risk as it could mean Hackney losing yet another fire engine.
“Londoner’s need to know there are clear and costed alternatives available that would protect the frontline.”
London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore, Labour chair of the LFEPA resources committee, said: “While a new website would be welcome, this should not be done at the cost of front line cuts.”
But Cllr Maurice Heaster, Conservative committee member, said at a meeting last Thursday: “You’ve suggested taking out a very important bit of IT.
“All the conversation now is very much about social media and this authority doesn’t really get involved with social media because, frankly, the equipment we’ve got isn’t up to it. I think it’s a false economy to think about removing something as important as this.”
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson has given his backing to the plan to axe 13 engines.
They were taken out of service in August 2013 for use during strike action and the brigade says fire response targets “can continue to be comfortably met at the London level” without them.
Cllr Heaster said: “We have to live within our means and not ping pong around the budget.”
But response times in Hackney would rise and the proposals have faced fierce opposition.
The Fire Brigades Union says delays “may put lives at risk”.
London Assembly Member Dr Fiona Twycross, Labour committee member, said: “There are other ways to make cuts other than deciding to cut 13 appliances.
“I think the public would want us to consider this very carefully.”
A decision on the proposals has been deferred until December 2.
A spokeswoman for the London Fire Brigade said: “It’s unfair to suggest that we are making a decision between keeping a fire engine or updating our website.
“Firstly, updating the website would be a one off payment unlike the year-on-year savings of £13.2 million needed to meet our budget for 2016/17.
“A modern website would form an integral part of our work on fire prevention, education and fire safety regulation for London’s businesses.
“A redevelopment of the site and its functions would allow the brigade to do more, better, for less.
“Currently the brigade website is not mobile-ready when 76 per cent of the UK population use smart phones to access their information.”