Fire service needs emergency support

Mersey fire webMerseyside Fire and Rescue Service is underfunded and overstretched, yet crews continue to offer a first-rate service.

We have every reason to be thankful for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s prompt action last night to prevent the total loss of the iconic Littlewoods building on Edge Lane.

Their action prevented any risk of loss of life or injuries and stopped the fire spreading to damage the essential external fabric of the building.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be working with the council, the developer Capital & Centric and others to ensure that plans for a northern film studio complex at the site can go ahead.

The fire underlines how vital our fire service is. There can be no doubt that Tory government cuts are now having a severe impact on the service. The number of firefighters and fire appliances on Merseyside has fallen by 38 per cent.

Yet there has been a summer of wildfires, including on Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor, to which Merseyside fire and rescue sent crews to assist colleagues from other services.

The horrors of Grenfell Tower and terror attacks in London and Manchester underlined the need for a fire and rescue service that is able to respond at a moment’s notice.

A prompt and skilled response saves lives and reduces property damage. Delays put lives and property at risk.

Between 2010 and 2016 Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority suffered the largest reduction in government grant of any service in the country. By 2020, the authority will have had a real terms cut of 50 per cent in its central government grant.

I have raised these cuts many times with Ministers since 2010. I previously convened a meeting with the fire service, all Merseyside MPs and the then Local Government Minster Bob Neil. Pressure actually got the then Fire Minister Brandon Lewis to visit the city.

Like Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, I now believe these cuts pose a significant danger to public safety. I will continue to lobby ministers to urgently provide the funding needed for a safe service.

The level of the cuts have gone way past the ability of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service to make savings from back office functions or efficiency savings. The government has said that the fire service should raid its reserves, but this ignores the fact that 97 per cent of that money is already allocated to capital projects designed to save money in the future and to deal with any major incidents.

The truth is that these cuts are damaging the frontline. This cannot be acceptable. Our Fire Authority and the Chief Fire Officer have also spoken out many times against these cuts and the impact they are having.

We all need to stand with them in demanding that the government makes an immediate financial contribution to prevent the latest cuts, offers a meaningful review of future funding and agrees to work with our fire service and leaders across Merseyside.