Fire chief warns budget cuts could hamper efforts to stamp out racism and sexism

London Fire Brigade boss Andy Roe told the London Assembly that difficult choices will need to be made, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

London fire commissioner Andy Roe (credit LFB)
London fire commissioner Andy Roe (credit LFB)

London’s fire chief has warned that the brigade’s progress in stamping out misogyny and racism among its staff could be slowed down if its funding is stretched in the year ahead.

Fire commissioner Andy Roe said that if forced to make difficult financial choices this year, he would potentially have to make savings from the programmes set up to address the brigade’s cultural problems.

He vowed however to protect the capital’s fire stations from closures, saying that would be an irresponsible course of action given the growing number of “emerging risks” in London, such as wildfires, flooding and the impact of climate change.

The issues of institutional misogyny and racism within the brigade were outlined in a November 2022 report by Nazir Afzal, former chief crown prosecutor for the north-west. The review included accounts ranging from women being groped to firefighters having their helmets filled with urine.

Roe recently told London Assembly members that he was committed to a “culture change” within the LFB and was working to create an “inclusive workplace”, including through improved training of officers and the creation of an external complaints service.

But at a Monday meeting of the assembly’s budget and performance committee, the commissioner warned that tight finances could mean less funding for those improvements.

He said this would depend on how much of the brigade’s budget has to be devoted to increased pay for staff – with the increase decided at a national level following complex negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union.

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In the event that a higher than expected increase is agreed this year, Roe said the brigade would likely be forced to “slow down or stop” some of its “investment activity”.

He added: “It might be about slowing down some of the changes to training, it might be about looking at the level of investment we’re putting into change around culture, for example.

“So not things that we particularly want to do, but we could reasonably phase, as long as we understand the risk – and that may well be the approach we need to take in order to ensure we meet our obligations in terms of managing the finances of the London Fire Brigade appropriately.”

He pledged though that he would not look to find “easy answers” in the search for savings by removing fire engines or closing fire stations.

“Where we would not seek to find those savings is within the overall make-up of our operational estate and numbers,” he said.

“Because I think we’re in a position with emerging risk – and what we’re seeing particularly around the built environment and then [with] respect to climate – where it would be injudicious of me as commissioner to suggest that there might be some easy answers by closing fire stations or removing appliances.

“I am not of that mind. I think they have to be safeguarded at all costs.

“We do a quarter of all fire and rescue service calls in the UK on a daily basis, over 210,000 a year. We hold all the risk, in pretty much every metric, in comparison to other force areas [across the country] – we are very different.”

Earlier in the meeting, Roe referred to the flooding seen in Hackney Wick last week as an example of the “emerging risks” the brigade is seeking to tackle.

Baroness Fiona Twycross, London’s deputy mayor for fire and resilience, told committee members that the national negotiations over firefighter pay would not necessarily have concluded by the end of the mayor’s budget-setting process in a few weeks’ time.

“The [firefighter] pay year is from 1st July, so we don’t have a history of this being agreed neatly within the budgetary process,” she said.

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