MPs and Sefton Council warn of "dangerous and damaging" Tory-Lib

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson with Merseyside Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens and Merseyside Fire Authority chairman Cllr Tony Newman.

Bootle Labour MP Joe Benton and Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson have joined forces to call on the government to reverse the cuts in the fire service on Merseyside.

The MPs' call comes in the week that Sefton Council, led by Sefton Labour Party of Councillors, unanimously agreed a motion at the Thursday evening full council meeting which called on the Tory-Lib Dem government to reverse its "damaging" cuts to the fire service. 

Joe and Bill met Merseyside chief fire officer Dan Stephens and Merseyside Fire Authority councillors from all three parties and heard a united call for help in reversing the cuts which so far have been twice the national average. 

Dan Stephens told MPs that Merseyside had one of the most efficient fire services in the country but has faced the biggest cuts to its budget. 

The chief fire officer also told MPs that he was very worried that cuts over the next year will force him to close fire stations and remove engines from some of the remaining stations.

This nightmare scenario was presented by Mr Stephens at a meeting with Merseyside MPs, which was attended by both Bill Esterson and Joe Benton. 

Of even greater worry, the fire chief showed the MPs what would happen if Merseyside suffered average cuts over the next two years. But so far Merseyside has been hit with twice the national average of cuts. Mr Stephens admitted that if Merseyside suffers above average cuts again, it is very difficult to see how the service could survive in its current form. 

Dan Stephens was backed up by members of the Fire and Rescue Service Authority, which was represented at the meeting by councillors from Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems. 

Joe Benton said: “The message from the chief fire officers is stark - these cuts are dangerous.

"The government has to listen to the professional opinion of the fire chiefs who are making perfectly clear that the cuts to frontline fire cover will leave regions like ours with radically low levels of fire and rescue cover resulting in significantly less ability to manage during major incidents.

"It's not too late, the Tories and Lib Dems can reverse their plans and stop their cuts directly affecting an essential frontline emergency service." 

Bill Esterson said: “Merseyside has been hit hardest by the government when it comes to cuts to the fire service, just as it has with cuts to the police and to councils. 

"The Tories and Lib Dems are attacking people across Merseyside and have cut services to the bone. The government has not looked at the impact of these cuts on safety. They have ignored the fact that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is responsible for major industrial sites including the docks and the thousands of people who live nearby. 

"The reckless nature of the cuts means that the Tories have taken a gamble with the safety of people across Crosby, Maghull and Formby. Worse, the cuts being planned by the government, mean that Sefton may have to lose fire engines and back up. And that’s only if the cuts are the same as the national average. 

"The worrying point is that so far, the Tories and their Lib Dem friends in government have cut the fire service in Sefton at twice the national average. 

"Joe Benton and I are calling on the government to reverse these cuts and to carry out an immediate investigation into the risks posed to safety by cutting the fire service in the way the Tories have and in the way they plan to."

Sefton Council leader, Labour's Cllr Peter Dowd said councillors in the borough shared the MPs' concerns.

Cllr Dowd said: "The number of frontline staff has been slashed by 6% under this government. Their cuts to the fire services are damaging and dangerous.

"Like Joe and Bill, my colleagues on the council have met with our Chief Fire Officer and he has some grave concerns about the level of cuts being imposed on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.

"The Chief Fire Officer, together with his colleagues from the six metropolitan brigades outside London, have given their professional opinion that the scale of the cuts they are having to deal with from the Tory-Lib Dem government will severely affect frontline services and may result in the number of firefighters being massively reduced, some by compulsory redundancy, with fire appliance number facing the cut and fire stations closed.

"By unanimously passing this motion, Sefton Council has now added its voice to that of Joe Benton, Bill Esterson and our chief fire officer in calling on the Tories and Lib Dem to reverse their planned cuts to our fire service." 

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