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UPDATED: Fire station closures set to be approved tomorrow
FIRE service chiefs are expected to give the go-ahead to the closure of two Wirral fire stations tomorrow despite union claims that doing so would put the public at risk.
Members of Merseyside’s fire authority will discuss plans that could see stations in West Kirby and Upton merged to a new station in Greasby when they meet for the authority’s annual budget meeting tomorrow afternoon.
The measures - which will also see stations merged in St Helens and Knowsley – are said to be needed to deliver savings to help balance an estimated budget shortfall of at least £6.5m by 2016.
The reduction of six stations down to three will see 66 firefighter posts disappear through retirement.
Meanwhile, a further 22 jobs could be lost as the authority moves to day-only crewing, with the eventual closure of a further station in Liverpool or Sefton.
Mark Rowe, secretary of the Merseyside Fire Brigades Union – which represents rank-and-file officers, told the Globe making further cuts would have “disastrous consequences”.
He said: “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.
“We have reduced the amount of firefighters by nearly half over the last decade down to 786 and we have got rid of 14 fire appliances since last September and now we’re talking about station closures.”
Fire service chiefs say the cuts are being forced upon them by the Government.
Mr Rowe added: “We have near enough had cuts of £30m in funding for Merseyside Fire Service – that’s going to have disastrous consequences.
“While we urge the councillors on the fire authority to rethink, we are minded that this is not a local problem and is not a problem of their making.
“We are talking about a fire and rescue service, party politics should not come into it.
“Keep the stations open. 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.
“We can’t continue just to make cut after cut after cut, there has to be a point where the councillors stand up and say we can’t make these cuts because we are of the belief that they are too dangerous to make.”
On December 3 last year, the authority considered a report outlining options to make further savings in 2015/16.
Since then, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer, Dan Stephens, has made a number of presentations to Wirral councillors and party groups “explaining the final challenge faced by the authority”.
He said that if land could not be found in Greasby, the next option would be to consider the outright closure of West Kirby.
“Upton is a key station from an operational response perspective – West Kirby is not,” explained Mr Stephens.
“Put simply, a ten-minute response circle around Upton covers more of West Wirral than a ten-minute response circle around West Kirby which would cover a large element of the River Dee.
“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.”
Merseyside fire service has 740 less firefighters than a decade ago and 28 fire engines, reduced from 42 since last September.
Mr Stephens added: “I certainly do not want to have to make these recommendations to the authority, and the authority certainly does not want to have to action them.
“We are no different to the rest of local government in that we are required to deliver significant savings.
“In any event, as soon as the authority has a firm option, whether that be a merger involving a new station in Greasby or the outright closure of West Kirby, an extensive consultation process will be undertaken with all stakeholders across West Wirral.”
Read Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer Dan Stephens' letter in full here.
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