London firefighters reject job cuts plan

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Public safety in London could be under threat if plans to close fire stations and cut firefighter jobs go ahead. The capital's fire safety authority has rejected the cost-cutting measures but Mayor Boris Johnson could still wave them through.

The plans would involve the closure of ten London fire stations, the loss of 14 fire engines and 552 jobs, saving £28.8 million over the next two years. Supporters of the measure argue that the cuts would not have an adverse effect on safety.

London's fire commissioner Ron Dobson excused the measures: "The number of fires we attend has gone down by half in the last 10 years, and latest figures show that fires continued to fall at the same rate last year. Response times in London will remain amongst the very best of any emergency service in the UK."

Firefighters disagree, staging a sitdown protest at London Bridge before the fire safety committee meeting, to highlight the cuts. Labour committee member Navin Shah claimed widespread public opposition to the cuts. "Let the Mayor play with fire," he said. "We are not prepared to sign up to this reckless plan."

Political opponents claim that the closures are motivated by Johnson's determination to find a 7p cut to council tax. A poll commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union indicated that seven out of ten Londoners were worried that the cuts would create greater risks.

Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: "Government cuts are putting lives at risk across the country. Londoners are particularly at threat because of the mayor's own attacks on the capital's fire service. In a fire, every second counts. These cuts plans ignore that crucial fact."

With Johnson's popularity among Londoners ebbing after the feelgood factor of the Olympics has worn off, he might have second thoughts about forcing through such an unpopular measure for the sake of a minimal tax cut.

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