Unions slam “outrageous” costing as London Fire Brigade spend on East London estate revealed

Poplar Fire Station. Picture: Brian Cooper

Poplar Fire Station. Picture: Brian Cooper - Credit: Archant

London Fire Brigade is due to spend more than £860,000 on local fire stations over four years, including £200,000 for a new kitchen at Poplar.

Freedom of Information data obtained by the Advertiser showed the brigade has shelled out a total of £11.8m in upgrades to its estate since 2015, including £359,751 in Tower Hamlets of a budgeted total of £865,079.

The Fire Brigades Union has slammed the “ludicrous” amount being spent on works after firefighters have faced years of real-terms pay cuts.

But an LFB spokesman 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.”

At Poplar Fire Station a long-awaited kitchen refit by contractors H&V Building Services is due to set LFB back £208,812, with a separate electrical rewiring job costed at £208,637.

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Meanwhile, Essex-based firm B Nokes was paid £191,764 for replacement appliance bay doors in a job that went £41,000 over budget, as well as £96,132 for fire safety works.

During the kitchen refit, the contractor was paid £30 to remove two toasters from their boxes and plug them in.

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A similar kitchen refurbishment at Wennington Fire Station, Havering, is also set to cost in the region of £150,000.

A London-based firefighter, who asked not to be named, said he had visited both sites late last year.

He said: “In the space of a couple of days, I saw half a million pounds’ worth of work on two kitchens.

“It sounds outrageously expensive. Poplar is catering for five people, maybe six, maximum at a time.

“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.”

Other planned spends in Tower Hamlets include a budgeted £73,600 for a full redecoration of Millwall Fire Station and £51,567 for the redecoration of Poplar.

Elsewhere in London, LFB 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.

It is 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.

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.”

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said this had been Poplar’s first kitchen re-fit in 15 years.

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.”

In respect of the toasters at Poplar, they added: “The main contractor was responsible for accepting delivery, unpack, install and verify the operation of new kitchen appliances, white goods and dining room furniture. They were also responsible of disposing all packaging and therefore have to hold a waste transfer licence.

“This was part of a competitively tendered package of works and the contract was awarded based on its competitiveness.”

Barry Nokes, director of B Nokes, said the works had come about as a result of a competitive tender exercise and 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.”

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