Unions slam "outrageous" cost of upgrade works to London Fire Brigade estate
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 24 January 2019
London Fire Brigade spent more than £800,000 on Newham's fire stations over four years, including £20,000 on the male showers at Stratford.
Freedom of Information data obtained by the Recorder showed the brigade has shelled out a total of £11.8m in upgrades to its estate since 2015, including £806,649 on jobs in Newham.
The Fire Brigades Union has slammed the “ludicrous” amount of money spent on works after firefighters have faced years of real-terms pay cuts.
But an LFB spokesperson insisted the works were justified, saying its stations “require robust and industrial-standard equipment as they are in constant use and must be built to last.”
Among the works paid for in Newham were £400,082 for new windows and structural works at East Ham Fire Station, carried out by Essex-based firm B Nokes from July 2016 to October 2017.
The same company received £19,222 to replace the male showers at Stratford, while H&V Building Services was paid £211,013 for a replacement cooling system, and a redecoration of the site by regular contractor Smith & O’Sullivan is currently set to cost £69,107.
Elsewhere the brigade spent £1.2m re-fitting its Union Street headquarters, including £134,510 on the shower rooms and £222,848 on replacement chillers that took one day to install.
The re-fit took place so that the brigade could sublet part of the buildings and by 2015 had already led to £9.8m being raised in revenue from the tenant.
LFB is also set to fork out £87,000 on waterless urinals for 41 sites and £584,000 on electric charge points for its fire engines.
A small cluster of companies have received the lion’s share of high-value works, with six firms receiving almost £6m for their work across the estate.
At Poplar Fire Station in East London, a firm charged £30 to remove two toasters from their boxes and plug them in.
Gareth Beeton, London regional chair of the Fire Brigades Union, said members had raised concerns about work at their local stations.
Mr Beeton said: “In this time of restricted budgets from central government, it’s absolutely outrageous they are spending all this money.
“How are they deciding who needs to do the work and how to get the best deal? It seems ludicrous how much they are spending on small jobs, and bizarre how they allocate them.”
In recent years firefighters have been subject to a one per cent pay cap in line with other public sector workers, and in 2018 were offered a two per cent pay increase, compared to 3.5 per cent for teachers and some NHS staff.
A London-based firefighter, who asked not to be named, said: “We’ve had years of pay cuts; my wages have decreased by roughly 14 per cent since 2010.
“We used to do our own gardening and clean the appliance bay or change the lightbulbs ourselves. Now we are throwing public money at private contracts.
“It’s been a running joke that any job that the fire brigade takes on, you might as well double the number and they’ll pay it. Even though it’s not our money, it’s absolutely our money; my taxes pay my wages.”
An LFB spokesperson said the brigade cannot use the money raised from capital for non-capital projects, so money for refurbishing fire stations cannot be diverted to staff payment.
They said: “Firefighter pay is based on a national framework and individual fire and rescue services have to work within these structures.
“All contracts follow a competitive tendering process common to all GLA organisations.
“Firefighters do not have time while on duty to repair or refurbish their stations. To employ firefighters to complete minor works or decorating would require competency training, require liability insurances and could impact on response times endangering the public.”
In respect of the toasters, they added: “The main contractor was responsible for accepting delivery, unpack, install and verify the operation of new kitchen appliances. They were also responsible of disposing all packaging and therefore have to hold a waste transfer licence.”
Barry Nokes, director of B Nokes, said the works had come about as a result of a competitive tender exercise, adding that if his firm had won the majority of tenders, it was because it offered the best value for money.
He added: “As a small contractor, I would regard this is a positive achievement, having successfully tendered for the works that we have completed and being giving the opportunity to compete against other companies, where 95% of my work force is based in North East London, it is undoubtedly good for local jobs.”