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MP warns 'lives will be lost' due to fire service cuts

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has slammed the Government’s failure to support the fire service and has warned that “lives will be lost” due to fire station closures.

The MP signed an Early Day Motion sponsored by Knowlsey MP George Howarth, and supported by fellow Mersyeside MPs, highlighting the cuts suffered by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service between 2010 and 2020.

The service’s Government grant will have taken a 50 per cent hit in the decade, resulting in a loss of £13.7million annually, or 18 per cent of the budget. The fire service also receives funding from local authorities.

The EDM, also signed by Merseyside MPs Lousie Ellman, Luciana Berger, Connor McGinn, Maria Eagle, Angela Eagle, Stephen Twigg and Dan Carden, said: “In the period 2010-11 to 2019-20, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service will experience a 50 per cent real terms reduction in Government grant; further notes that this will lead to a reduction in the Authority's revenue budget from £73.6 million to £59.9 million, amounting to a wholly unacceptable reduction of £13.7 million.”

The motion also expressed “grave concern” that as a consequence of cuts the number of firefighters had reduced from 1,000 to 620 full-time equivalents in Merseyside.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority had usable reserves of £27.7 million in 2017-18, with £17.8m earmarked for capital schemes, £3 million to enable recruitment of firefighters to replace those reaching retirement age, a £1 million provision for catastrophic incidents, a smoothing reserve of £1.8 million, and general reserves of only £2 million. The motion described this as “dispelling any belief that the current reserves represent a viable mechanism through which to sustain the Fire and Rescue Service.”

The motion continues to state the “great concern that the Authority despite its efforts to introduce efficiencies and savings will no longer be able to fund a service which is safe for the public; and calls on the Government to urgently review the need for additional funding.”

Mr Esterson said: "The fire service has suffered devastation cuts and if these continue lives will be lost.

“Fire stations in Sefton Central have already faced cuts to engines and night-time cover and the truth is in a major incident the service would struggle to respnd adequately here and in the city. Crosby is the nearest station to the new Liverpool 2 port yet it has no immediate cover at night. Cuts of more than 50% in Government funding has left the service on its knees and fire fighters demoralised."

Crosby and Aintree fire stations, along with Kensington and Eccleston in the Liverpool City Region, have already moved to part time working, with just two crews working shifts during the busiest parts of the day and being available to be called in to cover at night and other less busy times. Previously there were four crews at these stations.

Merseyside Fire Engines will have been cut from 42 to 22 from 2010 to 2020.

Mr Esterson said he was urging the Government to move immediately to increase funding.

He said: "The relentless cuts to Merseyside Fire and Rescue service now mean that we have passed far beyond crisis point. The Fire Brigades Union believes that due to the Tory led cuts fire cover is potentially compromised in Merseyside. "We have seen through some of the biggest incidents in the country in recent years, such as Grenfell Tower, the 7/7 bombing, the 2011 riots and the 2015 floods, just how vital our fire service is in responding to emergencies. There is a real fear now that Merseyside Fire Service is ill-equipped to deal with a major incident.

"The fire and rescue service plays a fundamental role in our communities - tackling the day to day risks we all face. It needs proper funding or any one of us could pay the price."

Mr Esterson said: "The cuts are deep into the bone now and the threshold of safety was passed many years ago. The service is underfunded, over stretched and the Government must listen."

Merseyside Fire and Rescue has 10 ‘key’ stations, in positions that enable 10 minute attendance anywhere in the county. The Merseyside average response time is less than 6 minutes.

However, overnight, where crews are not full-time, the crews are retained on a 30 minute call to active. By 2020 only 13 fire stations will remain crewed by wholetime firefighters immediately available for deployment.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue says it would cost an extra £3m to go back to full-time cover across the region. It costs £1m a year to fully staff each fire station full-time, with the majority of the cost being staff wages. Fire fighters have taken a voluntary pay cut and have lost £3,500 per year in real terms.

Despite decades of decline in fire deaths, overall from 2010 to 2016 there was an increase in fire deaths, trebling in number from 2010 to 2016, from five fire deaths in 2010/11 to 16 fire deaths in 2015/16.

The Authority has been criticised for having £25m in reserves but they say this is earmarked for rebuilding outdated fire stations, preventing compulsory redundancies and training new firefighters.

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