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Firefighters secure victory ‘in face of savage austerity’

FIREFIGHTERS in Merseyside have claimed victory after local authorities agreed to reverse funding cuts and axe plans that would have removed night-time cover at two stations.

A meeting between Fire Brigades Union (FBU) representatives and the Mersey Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) has resulted in plans to improve, rather than cut, the area’s current fire services.

They agreed that the number of active fire engines in Merseyside would increase from 26 to 30, and that the authority would accept the recruitment of 20 extra firefighters to take the total to 642.

The meeting also agreed that night-time fire cover at fire stations in Liverpool city centre and the neighbouring area of Wallasey would be retained.

Under the previous proposed plans, on-shift night staff would have been axed, meaning that regular staff would have to be “scrambled” to attend to emergencies in the middle of the night.

The FBU launched a campaign in June 2018 to reverse the cuts, and over 20,000 Liverpudlians signed a petition backing Merseyside firefighters.

They also successfully gained the support of every local Labour Party branch in Merseyside, and gained a vocal supporter in local left-wing Labour MP Dan Carden.

Mr Carden told the Star today: “Communities suffering under Tory austerity do not have to accept the consequences of an ideology which is a political choice.

“When we unite and fight back, we can win.

“Cuts inflicted by this government to the fire and rescue service quite simply put the lives of the public and the firefighters who serve them at risk.

“This campaign was an inspiring example of people power in action with the local community taking a stand, supported by the Labour and trade union movement.”

The FBU previously accused MFRS bosses of acting “vengefully” in their proposed cuts, and now welcomes the local authorities’ new decision.

Union regional secretary Mark Rowe said after the meeting on Thursday that resulted in the U-turn on the planned cuts: “This is a victory for the FBU and Merseyside communities in the face of savage austerity — but it is mainly a victory for common sense.”

Funding for the new plans will now be subject to an Integrated Risk Management Plan consultation process that the union will play a “full and active part,” he wrote in a letter to members.

Across England, the number of firefighters has fallen by an average of 22 per cent since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took office in 2010, and 45 fire stations have been closed.

However, in Liverpool and Merseyside, the number of full-time equivalent firefighters fell from 989 in 2010 to 684 in 2018.

This is an overall drop of 31 per cent, and one of the most dramatic cuts to any fire service in England.

As a result of cuts, the remaining Merseyside crews take a minute and a half longer to respond to call-outs now than they did in 2010, bringing the total response time to seven minutes 29 seconds.

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