Why is it "controversial"? Well, it certainly must be since it's set in 120 pt. typeface in the paper and on the Telegraph website.
According to the article, at least one member of the Fire Brigades Union apparently took issue with the fact that the donation came with the codicil that a square and compass symbol appear on the trucks to acknowledge the UGLE's generosity.
From the article by Sophie Jameson:
Paul Embery, of the Fire Brigades Union, told Channel 4 News that there were concerns over donations from “secret societies”.
"We don't want to sound uncharitable but our concern is that this is really a slippery slope,” he said.
“The idea of private companies or secret societies effectively purchasing front line emergency service vehicles and having their insignia - free advertising effectively - we are really concerned that could lead to a greater inflow of private money into what really is a private service."
Paul Embery is the Regional Secretary of the Union (FBU). Back in January, he was quite vocal about budget cuts for firefighters and equipment in London, and he claimed there was a correlation of a rise in deaths from serious fires as a result. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton had requested specialized firefighting equipment as part of her review into the Fire Brigade's resources that she was asked to undertake by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in July after the Grenfell fire. Government coffers were dry, but the FBU's General Secretary Matt Wrack was immediately critical of the notion of private organizations and societies like UGLE funding major equipment via charitable donations to pick up the shortfall.
“Whilst we appreciate the charity of anyone who wishes to support our firefighters, the idea that a professional, life-saving public service has to go around with a begging bowl to organisations with deep pockets is deeply alarming.
“If the equipment is needed to save lives, then the funding for it should be provided by Government. This deal sets a pretty awful precedent that could allow the Government to discharge its responsibilities in the future.
“We also have grave concerns that the donation in question has come from an organisation that disbars women from joining – a deeply offensive practice that needs to come to an end.”
The FBU doesn't want a donation from London Freemasons partially because they don't admit women as members. (Why am I reminded of Basil Fawlty standing in the lobby of Fawlty Towers shouting, "Honestly I don't know why we bother. We should let you all burn!")
Freemasonry across Great Britain is even more heavily concentrated on high-visibility, public charity than we are in the U.S. in most cases, and very large donations like this are not unusual. The UGLE's official appeal donations represent the third largest charitable body in the UK (after the Sainsbury grocery store chain's foundation and the National Lottery), and that doesn't even count donations made by individual lodges apart from the UGLE-sponsored official ones.
Many of the emergency vehicles heavily funded by the UGLE charities have featured a square and compass symbol on them as an acknowledgement of their generosity and of their dedication to improving their communities.
Many of these donations were made to supplement community services that would have otherwise cost taxpayers more money, or would otherwise have just done without for budgetary reasons. This current London Appeal for £2.5 million for the London Fire Brigade is a continuation of that dedication.
But the Telegraph and Paul Embery and Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigade Union find all of that "controversial" and some undefined "slippery slope." Because, you know, "wimmin."
One wonders if the Grenfell fire victims would have shared their squeamishness.
Thankfully for the citizens of London, the actual Fire Brigade itself is more than happy for the donation and finds no "controversy." From the Telegraph article:
A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade said it was not unusual for emergency services to accept charitable donations and it would be “irresponsible” not to consider any donation that could save lives.Indeed it would be.
“The donation we have received from the London Freemasons follows similar support offered by the organisation to other emergency services including the London Air Ambulance and London Ambulance Service," the spokesman said.
“The expectation for branding also follows similar support offered by the London Freemasons to other emergency services in the capital.
“The safety of Londoners is our priority and if we are offered any significant donation we can use towards equipment which could help us further protects Londoners and save lives, it would be irresponsible of us not to consider it.”