London Fire Brigade

Agenda item

Questions from Members (in accordance with Standing Order 20) – 17 February 2016 – FEP 2559

Clerk to the Authority – presenting questions received from Members to be answered by the Chairman of the Authority or the Commissioner. 

Minutes:

Questions from Members for the meeting on 17 February 2016, published in the order received in accordance with Standing Order 20, are set out below with supplementary questions and the Chairman and Commissioner’s replies:

 

Questions received:

 

Question 446

From Darren Johnson AM

I recently attended a sustainability briefing session for firefighters at Richmond Fire Station and one of the issues that came up in the discussion afterwards was the lack of flexibility regarding heating controls in stations. It appears from the discussion that this has been one of the most common concerns raised by London firefighters keen to do their bit to improve the sustainability of stations. Can the Commissioner update me on what is being done to address this in order to add to the Brigade’s already commendable achievements on energy efficiency?

 

Commissioner’s written response

 We are aware of the issue raised at Richmond, which was identified during staff consultation sessions in preparation for the Brigade’s third Sustainable Development Strategy. As a result, the draft strategy, which will be presented to the Resources Committee in March for approval, includes an action to pilot provision of improved user control of heating, allowing on/off control. This will be up to a limit of 20°C, provided the external temperature is below 16°C. The aim is to reduce emissions and improve staff comfort.  The pilot will include support for staff to understand how to use the existing heating controls they have and the additional controls provided.  Richmond station in particular has an old heating system that is scheduled for replacement, which will improve both the performance of the heating and staff comfort. If the pilot proves successful we will consider extending the approach to other stations.

 

Darren Johnson AM:Thank you for the response. When I attended the sustainability presentation at Richmond I did ask the firefighters present at the end if there was one issue that they wanted me to take back to the Commissioner what would it be, and this overwhelmingly was the issue which was exercising them most. I’m glad that the pilot scheme is being looked at for Richmond but I would stress that the feedback wasn’t just about Richmond; it was across the Brigade, particularly the older fire stations. If this could be rolled out it would be well-received by firefighters.

 


 

Question 447

From Dr Fiona Twycross AM

Given that in London, the emergency services already work together on a regular basis, what additional areas of work and/or shared services do you anticipate are likely to be included as the result of the duty to collaborate between the emergency services?  

 

Commissioner’s written response

 I am very proud of the excellent partnerships that already exist between the emergency services in London. The co-responding pilot and our hosting of Exercise Unified Response, which will be the largest multi agency exercise ever to take place in London, are just two examples of this in action. Whilst the duty to collaborate will bring a welcome emphasis to that work, a joint team of officers was put together in July 2015 comprising LFB, MPS and LAS colleagues who have been working to determine areas for potential blue light collaboration in the future.

 

These areas include emergency service control rooms, prevention and response activities, more collaborative procurement and sharing of premises. I am confident that closer collaboration between London’s emergency services has the potential to provide significant benefits in terms of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of blue light services to the people of London.

 

Dr Fiona Twycross AM: I wondered whether it was possible for us to get a more accurate definition of the duty to collaborate; we haven’t got a very accurate definition of what the duty to collaborate involves. Particularly in light of the fact that we’ll be starting to work on LSP6, and this will form part of the context in which we do it, I wondered whether we might ask the Government to elaborate on this so that we’re clear on what the duty to collaborate involves?

 

Commissioner: There’s a briefing note which I’m hoping to put out to Members this afternoon which updates Members in terms of where the Government are with the drafting of the new legislation. I’m not sure it helps with the point you’ve raised, but I’m certainly happy to go back and seek some clarification on that. I can circulate another briefing note to Members if I can get some more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question 448

From Councillor Jack Hopkins

Whilst the Authority has a Local Pension Board, there is no Scheme Advisory Board in place. Can the Chairman tell the Authority whether he has lobbied the Government to address this?

 

Chairman’s written response

My office is in the process of arranging a meeting with the new Fire Minster to discuss many of the issues of importance to LFEPA. I will happily raise this issue and report back to Members as soon as I have more information.

 

Councillor Jack Hopkins: I felt a bit sorry for you, Chair. I just wanted to know, would it be possible for us to help you get that meeting, given that the Prime Minister is ignoring you? This issue of the Pension Board not having been established is dragging on and on. It should have been done. It’s probably more cock up than conspiracy but I just think it needs a little bit of pressure.

 

Chairman: I have met with the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, who came into Union Street. The Minister met the Commissioner that morning, but your query came in after both of those events. Had it been before, clearly we would have raised it. The Fire Minister is tremendously enthusiastic but has a tremendously busy diary as well. We’re continuing to push it. We didn’t manage to meet the previous Fire Minister, who was in post for nine months or thereabouts. Mike Penning,  who is a former firefighter, is keen to meet everyone. However, there are more than 40 fire authorities in the country and he is currently trawling the country meeting everyone. So the date is not in the diary yet but it’s not being ignored; it just hasn’t happened yet. When it does happen we will have a discussion about that, but I don’t want to stop you feeling sorry for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question 449

From Tom Copley AM

How many of the 98,000 smoke alarms and 11,500 carbon dioxide alarms does the Brigade still have and what are you doing to ensure they reach those in the private rented sector?

 

Commissioner’s written response

Since the launch of the DCLG scheme to issue smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to the private rental sector, the Brigade has issued 7,333 smoke alarms to higher risk households.  The Brigade has also issued 6, 338 Carbon Monoxide alarms to higher risk households.

 

Unfortunately, despite significant proactive promotion of the free offer, the take up has been much less than anticipated.  Officers believe that this is mainly due to the Brigade’s approach to targeting the most at risk properties and therefore vulnerable residents.  As a result, although numbers are low, officers are confident that those alarms that have been collected have reached the right properties and people to reduce risk.  The intention going forward is to review the criteria to assess what other opportunities and partnerships exist to promote the take up of alarms.

There has though been a lot of good work already.  Throughout the campaign the Brigade has undertaken a sustained promotional campaign in web, social media, radio, television and printed media.  There was also a national campaign accompanied by paid advertorials.  Officers wrote to 3,261 estate and letting agents with details of the scheme and are currently repeating the process. Officers have also liaised with the National Landlords Association and other strategic partners, promoting the benefits to Landlords and their tenants as well as the availability of the alarms.

 

In December 2015, in order to simplify the application process, the Brigade’s web application form was amended to enable both landlords and tenants to apply for the alarms.  Further changes were made to enable applicants to self-declare tenants as being at higher risk.

 

The Brigade is currently in the process of targeting local papers in each borough with an updated press release saying that the free alarm offer is now open to tenants as well as landlords and further social media promotion. 

 

Tom Copley AM: Half of the carbon monoxide alarms have gone out but less than 10% of the smoke alarms have been given out. How are you looking to widen the criteria for who you are aiming these at?

 

Commissioner: We have been very keen to distribute the smoke alarms to our most  at risk groups – the P1 groups. What we are looking at now is to broaden that, so that we can get the fire alarms to groups which are considered slightly less at risk as the take up for those most at risk has been very low. We are now going to broaden that to attract other housing providers to see if they are interested in taking the smoke alarms.  I think we will get a higher distribution rate from that.  At the moment it has been very disappointing.


 

Question 450

From Andrew Dismore AM

Can the Commissioner provide details of the number of and identify which stations that were off the run for a) the duration and b) more than 2 hours of the night shift on Saturday 6 February and provide details of why they were taken off the run?

 

Commissioner’s written response

On the night shift on Saturday 6 February 2016 there were nine appliances off the run for the shift. These appliances were at Poplar, Leyton, Shoreditch, Harold Hill, Eltham, Dockhead, Willesden, Fulham and Surbiton fire stations.  This was despite the fact that there were 742 staff on duty, which is 68 more than required to staff all appliances.  The reason the nine appliances were taken off the run was due to unavailability of officers.  Under normal circumstances, suitably assessed officers from other stations would be sent in to standby to keep these appliances on the run.  Standby staff were arranged, but there was a shortage of officers due a combination of leave, sickness, training and vacancies.  In addition, there were five appliances off the run for two hours or more waiting for stand by staff to arrive.  These appliances were at Soho, Ilford, Hillingdon, West Norwood and Sutton.

However, there were no fire stations that were uncovered because appliances from other stations were sent in to cover each one on three hour rolling reliefs throughout the night.  In any case though the Brigade plans emergency cover on a strategic London-wide basis. When an appliance is unavailable because they are at an incident, carrying out community safety work or off-station training, emergency cover is provided by neighbouring fire stations.

In terms of addressing these issues in the future, a watch manager assessment process has recently been completed and a crew manager assessment process will conclude by the end of February.  The results of both these processes, combined with the managerial focus on increasing the number of crew manager plus candidates; the discussions with the National Joint Secretaries on a way to resolve the issues of redeploying appliances; reconstructing training courses for offices and close management of sickness levels, will ensure that such officer shortages are minimised.

It is worthy of note however that this number of appliances off the run is an unusual occurrence.  So far this year, there have only been two shifts where appliances have been unavailable due to officer shortages, one being 6 February and the other Sunday 25 January, when only one appliance was unavailable. In total in 2016, appliances have only been unavailable on less than half of one per cent of occasions due to skill/officer shortages.

Andrew Dismore AM:We have discussed some of these issues already. I see that one of the appliances that was off the run for two hours or more was at Soho. If that had been the other night that might have affected the attendance there. The first question I want to ask is how many officers were we short on that particular evening?

 

Commissioner: 13

 

Andrew Dismore AM: You refer in your answer to this being a rare occurrence but it also happened not so long ago last year didn’t it?

 

Commissioner: Yes.

 

Andrew Dismore AM: How many were off then run then?

 

Commissioner: I think it was 5 or 6.

 

Andrew Dismore AM: So it is an ongoing problem. How long is it going to take --

 

Chairman: Assembly Member Dismore, you are allowed two supplementaries. You have had three so far. I will allow one more.

 

Andrew Dismore AM: How long is it going to take to fix it?

 

Commissioner: There are number of issues which impact on this. One is the promotion round which we’re  currently in the process of and that will conclude in the next couple of months. We’re in consultation with the Fire Brigades Unions on some proposals which we hope might work towards resolving it as well. Obviously we  also need to make sure we get sickness levels down as sickness isn’t helping either. In terms of sickness, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to bring that down in the next nine months or so. In terms of the other things, those should be in the next two to three months.

 

 


 

Question 451

From Councillor Martin Whelton

In view of the low oil prices, what assessment has been made of the risk of fuel hoarding?

 

Commissioner’s written response

Officers have well developed relationships with the Brigade’s nine Primary Authority (petroleum) partners. These partners are responsible for the significant majority of the petroleum distribution and sales in the London Fire Brigade area. Officers have raised this issue at both local and national levels through the Petroleum Co-Ordinating Groups and maintain close liaison with partners to identify any upward trends in sales volume which could indicate that local hoarding may be taking place. There is currently no intelligence to suggest that this is the case and Officers continue to maintain the planned inspection regime and work closely with  Local Authority agencies to monitor the situation, and will respond accordingly should the need arise.

 

Councillor Martin Whelton: Can I thank the Commissioner for his answer. Given that the price of oil has dramatically fallen in the last year to a ten year low, what consideration has been given to buying fuel in advance given that there are likely to be considerable savings, which will protect us against rising costs of oil in the future?

 

Commissioner: It is an issue which we are concerned about because we have seen that in the past when fuel prices have been low. As the answer mentions, we have been speaking to the people responsible for the sale of petrol and other fuels. At the moment they are not noticing any particular increase in demand in terms of hoarding, but we are keeping an eye out on the premises which we have responsibility for in terms of petroleum licensing What we ask crews to do when they visit people for fire home safety visits is to look out for signs of hoarding. Sometimes we see cans of fuel in garages and so on. We are not seeing that at the moment, except in low numbers, but it is something we are keeping an eye on.

 

Councillor Martin Whelton: What consideration has the Authority given to buying fuel given the price of fuel at the moment, to protect us potentially against future rises?

 

Commissioner: We don’t stock any fuel; we have very low levels of fuel actually. Fire appliances have fuel cars which go out and buy fuel from petrol forecourts so we are very much affected by what happens on the forecourts. We don’t store great stocks of fuel any more.

 


 

Question 452

From Councillor Pauline Morrison

Members of the Labour Group have heard nothing during the consultation process to convince them that the removal of the fire appliance from Forest Hill is necessary nor justified. Will you listen to the residents of Lewisham and return the appliance to Forest Hill?

 

Chairman’s written response

Decisions regarding the future of Forest Hill fire station’s second appliance are not for me to take, they are corporate decisions of LFEPA.

 

Councillor Pauline Morrison: If it’s not for you to make the decision where and when will it be made? It is a great concern to people in Lewisham who believe it affects attendance times.

 

Chairman: As you know the decision will be made by the Authority and referred to the Mayor and the Mayor will make the ultimate decision, We are required to set our budget at the next meeting of the Authority which is on the 17 March 2016 and everything will be decided by then.  In terms of affecting Lewisham, of course the decisions we make here affect all of our fire stations. However, I would remind you that in Lewisham the first response time with the appliance not being there is 5 minutes and 18 seconds and the second response time is 7 minutes and 4 second which is within the targets.

 

 


 

Question 453

From Councillor Liaquat Ali

When do you expect further details/timescales for the abolition of LFEPA?  

 

Chairman’s written response

My office is in the process of arranging a meeting with the new Fire Minster to discuss the timetable for LFEPA’s abolition, as well as other issues. I will happily report back to Members as soon as I have more information.

 

Councillor Liaquat Ali:  When do you expect to meet the Minister and what sort of timescales are you working to?

 

Chairman: I don’t know. As soon as he responds and his office can find a slot in his diary. As soon as possible is the answer. We are working against the clock a little though because purdah {the pre-election period] starts on 21 March 2016. Beyond that, there will be some administrative things I need to do as Chairman, but if its not before then it is unlikely to be until after the election

 

Councillor Liaquat Ali:  Do you know the timescale for the abolition of the Fire Authority?

 

Chairman: The Bill is before Parliament now. The likelihood is that it would get royal assent towards the end of the year, I believe, and if that happens the new arrangements will probably take effect the following municipal year. This is all rule of thumb; it is not set in stone. I haven’t seen the details yet and they haven’t been released yet. I would expect there to be 12 months more of the Fire Authority and we would move into new arrangements after that.

 

 


 

Question 454

From Councillor Sarah Hayward

What work has already been carried out on the Sixth London Safety Plan and when do you expect Members to get first sight of this?

 

Commissioner’s written response

As you would expect, work is in train to develop the Sixth London Safety Plan. Much of this work will be reported to Members over the coming months, as indicated by the forward programme of Authority and Committee business. For example, next month, the Strategy Committee will receive a paper on Partnership working with Health and the Equalities strategy will be presented at the Authority meeting. The timetable for the development of the plan itself was agreed by us at the Authority meeting on 2 December. If Members have any views about those arrangements, I would be very happy to discuss them.

 

Councillor Sarah Hayward: I don’t have a follow-up question but I have an observation; I am grateful that the Commissioner recognises the valuable contribution that Members can make to setting the policy direction, in setting the Equalities Strategy.

 

 

 

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