Tuesday, 24 May 2011

FBU: fire engines could be sold off as contractor recieves winding up order

Fire Brigade Union says woes of key contractor battling winding-up order put capital’s safety at risk. The government’s enthusiasm for privatising key public services has been thrown into question amid fears the company that owns and leases appliances to London’s fire service is heading for administration, a move that could see the capital’s fire engines sold off.
AssetCo, a private company that in 2001 won a 20-year multi-million pound contract to supply the London Fire Brigade with all its appliances, has seen its share price collapse amid fears it is running out of money. If the company ends up in the hands of its creditor banks, they will have the right to sell off the appliances.

AssetCo owns and leases 500 vehicles and 50,000 pieces of equipment to the London brigade, the world’s largest fire service. It was also awarded a contract to provide ambulances to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust that was worth £7m in its first year.

The Fire Brigade Union has raised concerns about public safety if the company enters administration. “How are they going to guarantee there are fire appliances if the company that owns them goes into administration?” asked Duncan Milligan, the FBU spokesman. “The creditors are going to have first call on the assets. There’s a real risk here that the fire service are not going to have access to the engines.”

Question marks also hang over what would happen to the contract the company holds to supply reserve firefighters if fire service personnel go on strike.

A £10m fundraising exercise has yet to materialise and several of AssetCo’s directors have quit as the company battles a winding-up order from creditors. The company’s share price, which has touched £2.31 within the last five years, now stands at 3.75p. Chief executive John Shannon was dismissed in April for what the company called “serious breaches of contract”.

Last week Labour MP John McDonnell asked the government to reveal what it would do to protect the London Fire Brigade if the company goes into administration. “I’m extremely worried that the precarious nature of the company could put the fire service at risk,” McDonnell said. “I believe we need a full investigation into how this company was allowed to get this contract.”

The company’s problems will be seized on by unions and Labour politicians against the privatisation of vital public services such as the NHS.

The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which oversees the brigade, is chaired by Brian Coleman, the former Conservative mayor of Barnet council, famous for its stripped down “budget airline” approach to public services.

From The Observer,

All this is rather worrying in times of cut backs and job loss's. I think this latest issue will need resolving or will put the public at greater risk. If this has to come to industrial action to protect the fire engines and their use that will have to be the result but London considering it is always at threat from a terrorist attack and a key city on the world stage needs a good well funded and resourced fire service. Cutting jobs or equiptment will only hamper their role in protecting the public.

So i do hope a resolution can be found before industrial action is called.

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