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Reprieve expected for closure-threatened fire stations
Ten Merseyside fire stations under threat of closure could be reprieved after a strong campaign caused the Government to relent and ease its spending squeeze.
The rethink still leaves complications for Merseyside Fire Authority who must decide whether to keep all 26 of its stations open with one fire engine – or cut the number to 16 to enable some complexes to have two machines.
Councillor Lesley Rennie, deputy leader of Wirral Tory group, spoke out firmly against any closure.
Councillor Rennie, one of four Wirral Council representatives on Merseyside Fire Authority, said: “Before we knew what the financial settlement would be there was a lot of scaremongering with people going round saying fire stations would close.
“There is no need to close any fire stations – particularly in Wirral. There might have to be different ways of working – I don’t believe that the fire authority had fully explored to possibility of shared services.
“I won’t be outing my hand up for closures I don’t think are necessary.
“No-one has discussed anything of this with me,” she added.
Councillors on the fire authority will study both options at a special forum later this month before a final decision is made in February.
Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens said he believed the fact that the cuts had not been as severe as feared was due to strong lobbying against the Government proposals.
He said: “I am grateful to all our Merseyside MPs and everyone else who has helped us.
“We could afford 26 fire engines and have 26 stations with one in each, which would give us a quicker response time.
“But if I am honest, in a financial sense we would probably be better off with the other option.”
Mr Stephens explained that keeping all stations open would allow the service to continue with its community fire safety initiatives, aimed at educating the public about how to avoid blazes.
Further cutbacks, he said, could mean that saving the 10 stations would only be “delaying the inevitable.”
Mr Stephens conceded that job cuts could not be avoided. He anticipated that around 100 staff would have to go – the equivalent of 10% of the workforce.
He joined with chief officers of other fire services to warn the Government of the “potentially catastrophic” consequences of cutting staff numbers.
The Government responded by refusing to accept that cuts could not be made without damaging front-line services. It claimed economies could be made from promoting “sharing chief officers” and cutting “backroom costs.”