Bob Neill MP
I am writing to bring to your urgent attention a very serious situation. Inland Revenue has petitioned the High Court to wind up AssetCo, the company which now owns and maintains all London’s fire engines, because of its tax debts. This means that every single fire engine and fire appliance London owns could be forfeit as a result of the debts of AssetCo.
I understand that AssetCo has obtained a deferral in the High Court until April 20, presumably in order to give it more time to try to raise sufficient funds to pay its debts. I also understand that the Inland Revenue regard a petition to wind up a company as a last resort, only to be undertaken when all other measures to recover a debt have failed.
The safety of Londoners, and of London’s firefighters, is in the hands of a company which could be wound up in six weeks time because of tax debts. At the least, this will mean that there is no one to maintain London’s fire engines. At the worst, it could mean that London forfeits its fire engines to pay AssetCo’s debts.
We have all known for some time that AssetCo was suffering from financial problems, though it is only now that I have discovered they are so serious as to put its future in doubt. I do not know how long Councillor Brian Coleman, chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, who is close to AssetCo’s senior management, has known the situation. Nor do I know how long Mr Ron Dobson, London’s Fire Commissioner, has known about it, but I wrote to him recently about the possibility of London losing its fire engines and he replied on 21 February: “I can assure you that there are a number of step in provisions within the contract which enable me to ensure that the fleet of vehicles owned and managed by AssetCo on our behalf will continue to be available to the Authority at all times.”
He did not say what these provisions are, and the contract is secret. In my letter of 24 January I asked for this contract to be made public. No reply has been received. In these circumstances, I do not think either London’s firefighters or its citizens will be reassured by Mr Dobson’s response.
We have had concerns about this company before. During last year’s dispute, 27 fire engines were taken from London fire stations by the Fire Authority and given to AssetCo; and the Fire Authority refused to permit their return until there was a signed agreement between us. Once that agreement was signed, it took three days for AssetCo to make them available, and when they did, three of them were not in a usable condition, though they had been in perfectly good condition when handed over to the company.
I ask you to insist that the contract with AssetCo be terminated immediately, in order to protect London’s fire engines.