Boris to start privatising London’s fire services


8:40 am - October 13th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson is planning to rush through the privatisation of the London Fire Brigade control centre.

It would be the start of privatisation within London’s fire services and open the door to further privatisation.

In 2008, Conservative London Assembley Member Brian Coleman, a key political ally of Boris, also refused to rule out privatising all of London’s fire services.

Coleman is now pushing plans to fully privatise the control centre by March 2012.

The control centre deals with an average of 2.5 million calls a year and exceeds its performance targets for dealing with calls from the public.

Labour’s Ken Livingstone has now called on Boris to drop plans to rush through the privatisation of the London Fire Brigade control centre.

London’s mayor should be protecting our emergency services not privatising them. I cannot think of a more unjustifiable, foolish or dangerous policy under this mayor than privatising the control centre of the fire brigade. It is a new low.

My commitment to Londoners is that I will campaign flat out against this plan, and from the outset of my administration, if I am elected, there will be a fresh approach at the Fire Brigade.

Ken Livingstone added that if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Err, what’s wrong with fire services being provided by a private sector company anyway?

Aren’t we supposed to be more like the Nordics?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falck_%28Denmark%29

“In Denmark, Falck is currently in charge of 65 percent of munipacility fire brigades and 85 percent of ambulance services.”

Is the Danish fire or ambulance service worse than the UK one, more expensive or something?

Do note, Falck was part of Group4 for a time.

2. Solomon Hughes

Well Tim the fact that the existing privatisation schemes at the Fire Brigade have been a disaster might make you think twice: The transfer of London fire engines to Assetco is failing, and the privately run FireControl scheme to “upgrade” control centres wasted hundreds of millions of pounds

3. ManfromClaphamOmnibus

I think this is an excellent idea. I will be the first to turn up to a fire with a bucket of water. I can then negotiate its value with the owners whilst their property burns down.
I reckon with good timing, and their increasing desperation, I could make a fortune.

Are there any details on this?

…and the privately run FireControl scheme to “upgrade” control centres wasted hundreds of millions of pounds

Eh? It was run from Prescott’s office.

6. Solomon Hughes

Yes, FireControl was a Labour privatisation failure – the principal companies involved were EADS and PA consulting : Prescott’s office failed to control them, that was their mistake. More privatisation of fire services would be more of the same mistake.

7. the a&e charge nurse

Don’t worry, the Lords will soon put a stop to further privatisation ……. won’t they?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15269207

Fire services in the UK are grossly inefficient. The job of a fireman is a part time sinecure protected by a Stalinist union and a public who have been trained to say “our brave firemen” every time someone suggests archaic working practices might be overhauled.

It was union intransigence (helped by civil servants not up to controlling the greed of the private sector) that caused the losses in the Firecontrol project and, as usual, the government were too pusillanimous to take them on.

The whole rotten edifice badly needs to be swept away and the only sensible route to achieving that is privatisation. Flexible working is the key to a better service and it could be provided at a quarter of the current cost.

Not content with taking us back to Victorian times, it would appear that the vile tory’s model society is that of ancient Rome. Yours, eagerly looking forward to a couple of centuries of endless civil war, Joe.

Solomon,

Yes, FireControl was a Labour privatisation failure – the principal companies involved were EADS and PA consulting : Prescott’s office failed to control them, that was their mistake. More privatisation of fire services would be more of the same mistake.

There were multiple failures – all of them common causes of project failure. Failure to control consultants and companies was but one factor. The failure of the private sector and failure to control the private sector is not the half of it.

The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success – local Fire and Rescue Services. The Department tried to impose a national control system, without having sufficient mandatory powers and without properly consulting with the Fire and Rescue Services. These local bodies prize their distinctiveness and the freedom they have to choose their own equipment.

The Department rushed the start of the project, failing to follow proper procedures. Ineffective checks and balances during initiation and early stages meant the Department committed itself to the project on the basis of broad-brush and inaccurate estimates of costs and benefits and an unrealistic delivery timetable, and agreed an inadequate contract with its IT supplier. The Department under-appreciated the project’s complexity, and then mismanaged the IT contractor’s performance and delivery. The Department failed to provide the necessary leadership to make the project successful, over-relying on poorly managed consultants and failing to sort out early problems with delivery by the contractor.

http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/failure_of_firecontrol.aspx

Funny how Tim Worstall likes Scandinavian countries and their way of doing things….except when it comes to how they run their welfare system

“except when it comes to how they run their welfare system”

Hmm. Do I object to how they run their welfare systems?

Not sure I do actually: I spend a loit of time applauding how they finance their welfare system. High VTA, low corporate and capital taxation for example.

The Danish tax system, with a national income tax rate of 3.76% certainly appeals.

I also applaud how they run their health care systems: at county or commune (in Denmark) level, not national.

I certainly am entirely happy with the Danish labour market regulations. Pretty much fire at will, high unemployment benefits with strict time limits.

No national minimum wage in Sweden.

Lots to admire there.

13. the a&e charge nurse

[8] the same quality of service with a 75% reduction in cost – is there any evidence to substantiate this claim or is it just a random number that sounds good?

There’s a hell of a lot more to being a fireman than just hanging round waiting to put out the odd burning house. Take a look at the job description http://www.prospects.ac.uk/firefighter_job_description.htm and that’s not including the reality of having to deal with people missing body parts or cremated into shrivelled husks or cope with unknown toxic hazards while under missile attack from hoodies. Not an easy job and one which the public would miss pretty damn quickly if casualised. I’m sure Bonking Boris and his rich chums would love to go back to the days when properties without fire insurance plaques burned to the ground but would you?

In one state in the US where the extreme brownshirt tea party has got in they are going to force prison inmates to work as fireman. They won’t be paid,so that is seen as a great benefit.

All this is being done because taxes are not allowed to be rasied on wealthy people. It also increases the power of the private prison industrial complext which increasing is providing slave labour for many industries. These people will not be happy until we are returned to a Feudal existence.

16. Solomon Hughes

I’m completely mystified why “UKLiberty” thinks that quoting the NAO report on the FireControl disaster does anything other than strengthen the case against outsourcing the London fire control centre (unless I have misunderstood “UKLiberty”‘s point). Firstly, and very specifically, it shows that the last time this was attempted (nationally), it was one of the worst privatisation failures like ever. Because the suppliers sold crap , and the buyers (the govt) privatised their own purchasing (to PA), we’ve got hundreds of millions of pounds worth of useless empty buildings. This would at least make you cautious about trying the same thing again in a hurry. And, as the NAO report rightly says “The FiReControl project was flawed from the outset because it did not have the support of those essential to its success – local Fire and Rescue Services” – well does any further attempt to privatise the London control centre have the support of the firefighters ? Somehow I doubt it. Remember, the FBU campaigned as hard as they could against the FireControl project from the start, arguing it was a mistake for years. They were ignored, and then proved right. So probably worth asking them this time round.

“In one state in the US where the extreme brownshirt tea party has got in they are going to force prison inmates to work as fireman.”

That’s amazing Sally. I didn’t know the brownshirts (I assume you mean the Tea Party) had got in in California. For, as you no doubt know, California has been using prisoners to fight fires for decades.

You did know that, didn’t you?

18. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

This would at least make you cautious about trying the same thing again in a hurry.

Depends on your motivation doesn’t it, some people might see that as the proverbial red rag.

the Tory trolls were quick off the mark …HQ / Paul Staines / Iain Dale organise them well

@ A&E

[8] the same quality of service with a 75% reduction in cost – is there any evidence to substantiate this claim or is it just a random number that sounds good?

Ask yourself how many of these you’ve come across.

Then ask yourself why.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10716414

@20 pagar

The firefighters I know are very sceptical about fire bikes because they are one person operations and are ill equipped to deal with a fire suddenly expanding. The example often quoted is a car engine fire.

I suppose multiple bikes could be sent out, but I sense that there are other reasons for their concerns. The context for these proposals are not to improve a service, whereby one could easily imagine fire bikes adding to the techniques available to firefighters, but rather as part of cost saving plans.

You need to add the disastrous AssetCo fiasco and the very dubious position of characters such as Brian Coleman to the mix. Also the intention here is not just to save money, but to attack the FBU as part of a wider continuation of the tory attack on trades unions.

Hi Solomon,

The NAO report does not strengthen the case against “outsourcing” in itself, it strengthens the case against doing that in a particular way or ways.

The reason the NAO / OGC created their list of common causes of project failure was as a warning not a to-do list. Yet time and again projects fail due to people making the same mistakes.

Privatisation is not necessarily in itself a problem, the private sector is not in itself a problem, it is about what your project is meant to achieve and avoiding the common causes of project failure:

1. Lack of clear link between the project and the organisation’s key strategic priorities, including agreed measures of success.
2. Lack of clear senior management and Ministerial ownership and leadership.
3. Lack of effective engagement with stakeholders.
4. Lack of skills and proven approach to project management and risk management.
5. Lack of understanding of and contact with the supply industry at senior levels in the organisation.
6. Evaluation of proposals driven by initial price rather than long term value for money (especially securing delivery of business benefits).
7. Too little attention to breaking development and implementation into manageable steps.
8. Inadequate resources and skills to deliver the total portfolio.

So probably worth asking [the FBU] this time round.

It’s vital to properly consult the staff, yes.

23. Solomon Hughes

So iyour saying it is theoretically possible to do a good privatisation of fire control centres, by writing out a proper list and using some post-it notes, even though the actually existing privatisation of the same was disastrous. And given the other Fire Brigade privatisation, the Assetco/Truck deal, which was actually carried out by the same mob as is promising to do the current privatisation, was also a crap deal, what’s the chances this latest scheme will work well ? compared to the other option of leaving the control room in the public sector, where it functions ok ? It’s just a very weak argument.

<iThe firefighters I know are very sceptical about fire bikes because they are one person operations and are ill equipped to deal with a fire suddenly expanding. The example often quoted is a car engine fire.

I suppose multiple bikes could be sent out, but I sense that there are other reasons for their concerns.

Oh there are.

It is obvious to them that the criminal overmanning and over capacity in the service would become even more difficult to try to conceal. In the video I posted, the bike seemed to cope with a car fire pretty well!!!

Most people don’t understand that accidental building fires are a tiny proportion of the incidents that the fire service are called out to. Where is the sense in five brave men hurtling around the streets on a huge fire engine to put out a burning tyre on a piece of wasteland or a small brush fire?

When one brave man could do it quite easily?

Incidentally, I don’t blame the FBU for protecting the interests of their members, I blame the authorities for not taking them on.

25. the a&e charge nurse

I’m not sure the man on the bike could put this one out – or maybe we should rely on the West coast cons mentioned by Tim?
http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Football/Pix/pictures/2010/5/11/1273591351071/Bradford-fire-006.jpg

Fire bikes carry two 25 litre containers of foam and water and are good for two or three minutes use. While they may be used to put out a small car fire the poor sod operating it will be under a constant hail of bricks and bottles in most areas of Britain. Their chief practical use is in getting to areas where a full unit can’t fit. They are no substitute for the real thing. If you think a fully staffed, professional fire brigade is expensive wait till you’re burning to death or bleeding out in a car crash. I have a relative who had a full career in the fire brigade all the way up to a senior post in fire prevention and while firemen may look like a bunch of idlers to those whose most vital decision of the day is which Wikipedia entry to cut and paste firemen have to be ready to make split second decisions that could cost or save lives, operate complex machinery, use breathing apparatus and be fit enough to carry people to safety. I wonder how many trolls could do that? One of my relation’s first jobs in the brigade was the the Birmingham pub bombings

27. Johnsleftnut

As soon as you quote commie/Islamist loving slimebags like Red Ken all is lost.

28. Leon Wolfson

@12 – There ARE minimum wages in Sweden. They’re just negotiated on a sector-specific basis. Come on. you know this! And in Denmark, there is a FOUR YEAR time benefit on INCOME LINKED unemployment benefits!

The UK has an employment market with very few people on temporary work, even with the recession, precisely because losing your job is a major disaster – combined with very little protection for workers. And we’re only slightly behind Denmark for jobs held per-worker over their working life.

i.e. British companies hire and fire workers they should be employing on a temporary basis, with appropriate wages, to lower their costs.

Want to adopt the Danish system? Fine, but that means ALL of it, not just the bits you like.

In defence of Boris, at least the fire service isn’t being handed over to the Big Society – as yet.

Solomon,

So iyour saying it is theoretically possible to do a good privatisation of fire control centres, by writing out a proper list and using some post-it notes…

No, I’m not saying that. I have no idea whether or not it is possible to “do a good privatisation of fire control centres”; if it is possible, I doubt that “writing out a proper list and using some post-it notes” would be sufficient for success. Why not argue with something I’ve said or implied, rather than argue with something you’ve invented?

My first claim is that, contrary to your suggestion, FiReControl was not “privately run”, it was conceived in and (ostensibly) run by Prescott’s office.

My second claim is that “privatisation” is not the be-all-and-end-all of the reason for failure of FiReControl. I don’t recall it even being the objective of FiReControl.

My third claim is that a project is more likely to fail than another if the former has those common causes of project failure and the latter doesn’t, even if both projects share the same ends, which answers the rest of your comment.

… even though the actually existing privatisation of the same was disastrous. And given the other Fire Brigade privatisation, the Assetco/Truck deal, which was actually carried out by the same mob as is promising to do the current privatisation, was also a crap deal, what’s the chances this latest scheme will work well ? compared to the other option of leaving the control room in the public sector, where it functions ok ?

It’s just a very weak argument.

And not one I made, but your straw man.

I’m finding it difficult to think of a major privatisation that has been successful for the consumer/user.
Hospital cleaning / catering, transport (we have one bus an hour, sometimes it just doesn’t come – what then?), energy, water monopolies. BT (more useless now than it was before) only with added charges and extravagant claims for service provision, care of the elderly (massive success stories daily).
Still all good news for shareholders, directors, feral City scum etc.,etc.

32. Martin Young

8. pagar
The firefighters union have been a tad trotskyite, But at least there not into massive corporate corruption, mismanagement of public funds, bribing of public officials, generally doing a crap job most of the time….. the list could go on and on if I could be bothered but they really are far to easy to take a pot shot at.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Liberal Conspiracy

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  3. Boris Watch

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  4. Boris Watch

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  5. Nicola Chan

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  6. Nicola Chan

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  8. John West

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  9. Masu

    @tom_watson http://t.co/QwHVwNjj – Boris rushing through the privatisation of the London Fire Services

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  13. sunny hundal

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  14. Marwa

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  15. Elizabeth A

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  16. Elizabeth A

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  17. Elizabeth A

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  20. Josiah Mortimer

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  21. M Francois-Cerrah

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  22. M Francois-Cerrah

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  29. Emily Wight

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  48. sunny hundal

    Unsurprisingly, Boris allies at City Hall want to privatise more of London's fire services in future http://t.co/J4etrsGB

  49. Adam Bienkov

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  59. Toni Fernandes

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  71. Thom Stitt

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  72. Rosie

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  73. James McMahon

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  74. Lanie Ingram

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  80. GMB LFB Control Info

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  81. Tanya Kant

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  82. Thom Hodkinson

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  83. Michael Hanley

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  84. christine clifford

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  85. GMB LFB FRS Staff

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  86. Mrs Angry

    #BrianColeman pushes thru privatisation of Lon FB control centre bef April: wonder why?http://t.co/HBxkO8hH

  87. davidatkinson89

    Yeah yeah London. It was funny letting Boris be Mayor. He is after all amusing on TV, but privatising fire brigade? http://t.co/mpJBXrFl

  88. Joe Robb

    #BrianColeman pushes thru privatisation of Lon FB control centre bef April: wonder why?http://t.co/HBxkO8hH

  89. Mrs Angry

    good news tho & no 1 reason to vote for Ken – he is going to make big changes at the LFB. #BrianColeman in the canteen?
    http://t.co/HBxkO8hH

  90. janice ware

    Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/W6ZpTXVv via @libcon

  91. Lewis Orrow

    Boris and Brian. What a great combination (rolls eyes). http://t.co/DEEQTwuM . If I could, I'd vote for Ken so he could sack BC.

  92. GMB LFB Control Info

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/10/13/boris-to-part-privatise-londons-fire-services/

  93. Alex Braithwaite

    Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/oDrBWvwS via @libcon

  94. paula wilmott

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/10/13/boris-to-part-privatise-londons-fire-services/

  95. Agentur Radio Utopie

    Boris to start privatising London’s fire services: "London’s mayor should be protecting our emergency services n… http://t.co/w9WvZvIA

  96. Lesley

    @liam9 Oh would you look at this crap idea, soon be back to 18th C fire service! http://t.co/a4OHwo9n

  97. NORBET

    Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/A7y7jnOA via @libcon

  98. GMB LFB FRS Staff

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/10/13/boris-to-part-privatise-londons-fire-services/

  99. Ashley Harnett

    Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/3Ltnh3da via @libcon

  100. James Heaver

    Didn't the private company who owned the fire engines go bust a few months ago? And Boriss wants to do it again? #ffs http://t.co/dF1ra3g7

  101. Nikki

    Ken Livingstone, if elected, would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority: http://t.co/I58zffV5

  102. Alex Andreou

    Here we go ~ Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aY6cJokH via @libcon

  103. Sam Liu

    Here we go ~ Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aY6cJokH via @libcon

  104. Daniel Weichman

    Here we go ~ Boris to start privatising London’s fire services | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/aY6cJokH via @libcon

  105. celia weller

    @5WrightStuff hi ya, please RT this important awful news http://t.co/vxaGtAUt

  106. celia weller

    @JanetStPorter…… please can you rt this awful news ….. http://t.co/vxaGtAUt

  107. celia weller

    @McGiff … hello Carol, please rt this awful news that could happen to our London…. http://t.co/vxaGtAUt

  108. Molly

    Boris to start privatising London's fire services http://t.co/2YhIrAqw

  109. Eoin McLove

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m

  110. Milena Buyum

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m

  111. davidatkinson89

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m

  112. Jon

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m

  113. Sarah M

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m

  114. Judith Mann

    Ken Livingstone said if elected he would immediately sack Brian Coleman as chair of the fire authority-got my vote http://t.co/xPH0RV1m





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