As well as policing, I am Camden’s shadow cabinet member responsible for firefighting. Labour love to claim that fire response times have increased in NW3. They usually do this immediately in the aftermath of someone losing their life in a fire, such is their compassion and respect for the dead.
But it’s an area that requires scrutiny and an area where performance must be scrutinised. After all, lives are on the line, and approaching this with anything less than clinical precision could cost lives.
First, an important fact that the CNJ reporter that covers fire and crime issues called ‘insider information’. That is, firefighters are not permitted to enter residential buildings until a SECOND fire engine has arrived on site. This means, for the purposes of saving people from burning buildings, it is the ‘second appliance time’ – ie the time between the call being made and the second engine arriving – that matters.
So what do the facts say? Let’s compare the figures for the most recent year (beginning April 2016, coincidentally Boris Johnson’s last full month as Mayor) and those in 2012/13: the last full year before the closure of Belsize fire station.
These wards wards broadly make up Belsize station’s catchment area: the wards closer to the former Belsize fire station than any other. And look: response times have FALLEN for four of the five, including for my own ward of Hampstead Town.
Clearly, everyone wants to keep every fire station open – yes, the increased response times for Belsize ward itself are clearly related to the station closure, and measures need to be looked at to reduce them again.
But by reassessing fire station, engine, and staff deployments, as the Greater London Authority did between 2012 and 2016, average response times have fallen across London, including in Hampstead.
Labour’s continued claims that fire response times have got worse just aren’t borne out by facts. Indeed, if the reorganisation had not happened, fire response times probably wouldn’t have shown the improvement that they have. But they want to rely on fiction to advance a political agenda: and using fire victims as political props. How low can you go?