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The News Line: Feature Catastrophic fire cuts! Merseyside stations to be unmanned at night! SAFETY has been compromised for the residents of Merseyside in Liverpool, as years of savage cuts to the fire services have left it unable to respond to emergency incidents in the way that it used to, a new report warns.

Fresh cuts have been announced that state that firestations will no longer be manned at night! Which the FBU warned was a ‘step too far’ and ‘will be catastrophic’.

The report has been produced in the wake of the Liverpool Echo Arena fire where on the evening of 31 December 2017, a fire broke out in an adjacent multi-storey car park and as a consequence, the Liverpool International Horse Show, taking place at the arena, had to be cancelled and hundreds of people evacuated to safety. Horses had to be rescued from trailers in the smoke-filled car park. Each car exploded, setting fire to the next until all of the 1,400 cars were destroyed.

The Liverpool fire services later explained how stretched they were on the night and how they were lacking in staff and equipment. However, rather than the fire being a wake up call for additional funding, staff, resources and stations, the opposite has happened.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority has now said it has ‘reluctantly accepted’ that, to ‘make savings’, it had to cut immediate overnight fire cover at six stations. Meaning that if there is a fire at night in the Merseyside area, people will be more likely to burn to death. Council’s across the country are announcing a whole barrage of fresh cuts as the new financial year began April 1.

Merseyside council’s Service Delivery Plan for 2018-2019 also stated the authority faces ‘significant’ grant cuts up to 2019/20. The report said stations in the Crosby and Eccleston areas will be fully staffed during a 12-hour day shift but at night crews will be at home, available to return to work ‘within 30 minutes’!

It added the response to an emergency will be provided ‘within our standard of 10 minutes from stations that are fully staffed at night.’ Also affected are St Helens, Newton-le-Willows, Wallasey and Liverpool City fire stations.

The authority said cutting night cover was ‘a better option than closing fire stations’.
But it added: ‘There is no doubt that the scale of the cuts we have been required to make is now beginning to compromise the way we respond to emergency incidents.’

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the cuts were a ‘step too far’. It said it was deeply concerned about Eccleston where only one fire appliance coves the areas of Eccleston, St Helens and Newton le Willows from 22:00 to 08:30.

The union said it did not believe the service had the resources to cope with a Grenfell-type incident, adding the effects ‘could be catastrophic’. The FBU said the fire which gutted the Liverpool Echo Arena car park on New Year’s Eve confirmed its concerns, adding the service did not have the necessary resources to deal with an incident which was a ‘much smaller scale than Grenfell Tower.’

The fire authority said the Grenfell disaster resulted in ‘significant attention being placed on legislative fire safety’ while the outcomes of the Echo Arena fire ‘will impact’ on the service in years to come. The government has been urged to stop further cuts and award a pay rise to firefighters working for the country’s ‘worst’ hit service.

In a notice of motion to be considered by Wirral councillors next week, the UK Government is urged to end budget cuts to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS), as well as fund a ‘real increase’ in pay. The fire service itself has said the cuts are ‘unsustainable’, but in the government’s view, Merseyside firefighters ‘have the resources they need to do their important work’, and there is scope for ‘further savings’.

In terms of the impact of cuts to MFRS, Wirral council’s motion said in the decade between 2010 and 2020, there will have been a 48% cut in the number of fire engines used by the force – from 42 to 22. The number of fire fighters will have reduced by 37% from 927 to 580 – and support and control staff by 34% – from 507 to 309. There will have also been a 15% cut in the number of stations, the report added – from 26 to 22. Four stations completely closed!

The Home Office, responsible for the country’s fire services, is also urged to undertake a full evaluation of the impact of the cuts to date. The notice of motion, proposed by ward councillor for Bidston and St James, Brian Kenny, said: ‘Council is concerned that MFRS has experienced the worst budget reductions in the whole of the country. The number of stations, engines and firefighters have all been cut drastically, thereby increasing the risk to the communities that the service works so hard to protect.’

It said the motion recognised the ‘excellent work’ done by the service in delivering community safety and fire prevention schemes across Liverpool City Region, including Wirral. It also said it appreciated the service had to deal with a ‘wide range of incidents, both speedily and effectively’, so required ‘diverse and appropriate resources’, adding: ‘MFRS also supports National Resilience and is required to respond to incidents regionally, nationally and internationally, such as terrorist threats, severe weather, flooding and any incident that may have an impact on critical infrastructure.

‘MFRS delivers interventions that meet the needs of our communities including: “Safe and Well” visits that target our most vulnerable residents. This Service is held in very high regard and gains access to over 50,000 homes annually, to deliver community safety interventions.’

The government should recognise the service as a body planning for risk, not demand, the motion.
It added: ‘Council wishes to place on record its wholehearted thanks and appreciation for the work undertaken by MFRS, firefighters and support staff for their dedication, commitment and continuing professionalism, in keeping our communities safe.’

Chair of MFRS, Liverpool City Councillor Dave Hanratty, said: ‘The Fire and Rescue Authority fully supports the motion submitted to Wirral Council. The cuts suffered by the Authority are unsustainable and we call on the Government for them to be reversed.’

• Staffordshire fire chiefs have said they will be forced to cut £1 million from their budget this year as they are forced to ‘make savings’. The overall budget for 2018 into 2019 is £40.2 million, after bosses slashed the £1 million. This is the third year of ‘efficiency’ plans which has already seen the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Authority cut a total of £2.2 million.

Chairman of the authority Stephen Sweeney says that it will continue to drive down costs with further fire prevention work. Staffordshire fire service has planned £1 million in funding cuts this year. The fire authority is also raising its portion of council tax by around four pence a week – £2.08 over the course of the year – bringing the average household’s council tax contributions for the fire service to £73.53 a year.

As fire authorities go, Staffordshire’s share just undercuts neighbouring Derbyshire which has a £74.74 share of the total council tax bill this year.
 
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