It may have been a cold December morning outside, but in the chamber of City Hall, the temperature soon rose with the police and fire bosses under the Assembly’s spotlight!
The first part of the meeting was a timely opportunity to quiz the acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, and the Mayor of London, as Chair of the Police Authority (MPA).
Sir Paul gave a statement on the investigation into Damien Green MP, and the tragic Baby P case. The Damien Green saga and the Mayor’s involvement proved to be the hottest topic for discussion.
Boris admitted that he had personally spoken to Damien Green MP, despite him being under investigation by the police.
Labour Leader Len Duvall AM and his Deputy John Biggs AM pushed Boris on this, stating that he could have influenced the investigation.
The Mayor just could not get the point that was being made. Those of us from a local government background are always considering how our actions would seem to the public. Yet this just does not seem to occur to the Mayor.
“Perhaps I should be arrested for leaking a private conversation” he quipped.
Much to the amazement of those present, the Mayor said on at least two occasions that his hunch was there wouldn’t be any charges or prosecutions. Yet, the police are still investigating the case.
When pushed about the risk of how the public might perceive his actions and that he may have strayed into operational policing, Boris joked “I’m a mere toe nail in this”.
Lib Dem Leader Mike Tuffrey AM expressed concern at the extent that national security is being cited as a reason for police action – and how this had led to the loss of confidence in the previous Commissioner Sir Ian Blair – the politicisation of the police.
Sir Paul Stephenson did concede that the national interest should be used in a sparing and measured manner. However, when asked to look into potential criminal offences he felt it is right and proper the police investigate.
Lib Dem lead on policing Dee Doocey AM quizzed Boris on police numbers and the fact that there will be 883 fewer front line police officers over the next three years in London. The Mayor struggled to answer the detailed question.
The time that was left covered a range of topics such as safer transport teams, the cost of overtime and the departure of Sir Ian Blair. Given the length of the session, Boris only managed a couple of Latin quotations – a relief for most of us!
After a brief pause, the attention of the Assembly moved to the subject of fire, with Chair (man) Brian Coleman AM and Commissioner Ron Dobson of the Fire Authority. To mark their contribution (or perhaps the Queen’s speech?!), there was a gun salute from the Tower of London, resulting in great puffs of smoke and flames just above the fire duo’s heads!
Brian, the king of bling, enjoys wearing the Fire Authority’s chain and badge and questioned whether Jennette Arnold, the Chair of the Assembly’s gong was bigger than his!
Despite this good natured start, the fire questions soon deteriorated into a bizarre rant to most questions from the Chair.
He would not properly answer my questions on his plans for the fire budget, which could put Londoners lives at risk.
The Tories tried to have some fun with a story about former Assembly Member Lynne Featherstone MP. Lynne had called out the Fire Brigade due to her house shaking and fear of an explosion. Tony Arbour AM questioned whether she would be recharged for this call out – for what he described as an “air block in her boiler”. Mr Dobson made it clear that any such call would have gone through the necessary triaging and a fire team would only have visited if it was assessed as needing a crew.
Asked by Val Shawcross AM about plans to ‘amputate’ the library and museum, Brian Coleman stated that in the past the Labour group had “gone to the barricades” over issues such as cooks, only to vote for the cuts a few years later. “Everything comes to he who waits” he stated ominously.
Green member Jenny Jones raised the issue of health and safety performance of the fire brigade and the increase in road collisions in London that she felt LFEPA were not taking seriously. Clear answers were not forthcoming.
Following these two scrutiny sessions, two important motions were debated and passed – one on saving the trafficking unit in the Met and the other on dial-a-ride and taxicard services.
A long morning for all involved – successful in parts!
Caroline’s website can be found at www.carolinepidgeon.org