Fire service chiefs are expected to approve the closures of two of Wirral’s fire stations today (February 27th), despite union claims the public will be put at risk.
According to the Wirral Globe, Merseyside’s fire authority will discuss proposals that could see stations in West Kirby and Upton merged to a new station in Greasby at the annual budget meeting this afternoon.
Stations are also expected to be merged in St Helens and Knowsley.
These measures are part of a cost-cutting plan to deliver savings to balance a budget shortfall of as much as £6.5 million by 2016.
Up to 66 firefighter posts will be lost due to retirement, under the plans. A further 22 jobs could be scrapped as the authority looks to move to day-only crewing, looking ahead to the eventual closure of another station in either Liverpool or Sefton.
Secretary of the Merseyside Fire Brigades Union Mark Rowe said making further cuts could have “disastrous consequences”.
“We are in a position where we have had year after year after year of reduction in fire cover on Merseyside, to the point where now it’s our belief the public of Merseyside are in danger – in their homes, in their workplaces and on the roads.”
He backed up his claim by saying the number of firefighters has been reduced by almost half over the last ten years, down to 786. In addition 14 vehicles have been lost, amounting in total to nearly £30 million worth of cuts.
Mr Rowe voiced his opinion that councillors needed to have a rethink and that party politics should not interfere with a fire and rescue service, when people’s lives were at stake.
“There’s a point where, as councillors, you should be outspoken and refuse to make these cuts, particularly when the safety of the public is called into question,” he added, claiming the cost-cutting measures had become so severe that they were now too dangerous to make.
However, fire chiefs have insisted they have no choice but to make such reductions, due to the government’s funding restrictions.
On December 3rd 2013, the authority considered a report outlining potential ways to make additional savings in 2015/16.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer Dan Stephens has made many presentations to Wirral councillors and party groups explaining the final challenge faced by the authority.
While he explained the reasoning behind certain station closures and mergers, he added: “There is no option that the authority can pursue on Wirral or anywhere else on Merseyside that will not have a detrimental effect on performance.”
He spoke of the reluctance from both himself and the authority in effecting these changes, citing that it was no different in comparison to the rest of the local government in being required to deliver notable savings.
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.