By Cate Murphy, Liverpool Riverside CLP Secretary
Breaking news as we were about to publish this article – the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services Authority has backed down on trying to bring forward the overnight closures of Wallasey and Liverpool City Centre fire stations. They are still on the table for January-March 2019 but the leaders of the local authorities and the Metro Mayor are working with the FBU to try and find a way to keep these stations open permanently – be using reserves to recruit more staff and by considering using council tax. Discussions with government will continue. Lesson learned? When the political and industrial wings of the labour movement unite, and campaign to get the message across to the wider public, we can win!
The relentless cuts to fire and rescue services have passed crisis point in Liverpool, according to Merseyside FBU. Between 2010 and 2020 there will have been a 48% cut in fire engines across Merseyside, from 42 to 22 of which only 14 engines will be available for 24-hour 7-days-a-week response. The number of firefighters will have been reduced by 37% during this period, from 927 to 580. Several Merseyside fire stations have been closed since 2010 and there are plans to crew six stations from 10am to 10pm only including Liverpool City Centre and Wallasey – which will lead to a 30 minute recall from home before an engine is despatched. Fire engines are now crewed with four firefighters rather than five as previously which limits the ability to tackle serious fires. Already Liverpool is seeing fire deaths rise as a result of the Tory-imposed cuts to the service.
In the light of Grenfell and the significant grassfires in Wallasey this summer, and the plans to triple the city centre population in the next few years mainly housed in high-rise blocks, we believe that the proposed cuts will endanger lives of our citizens as well as firefighters.
As Mark Rowe of Merseyside FBU pointed out at a packed Liverpool meeting to stop the closures on 20 August – with two MPs, lots of councillors from over six CLPs, and over a hundred Labour and trade union members – Merseyside’s firefighters have done all they can to preserve the service, even taking a voluntary pay cut and changing shift systems. But the cuts just keep coming. The Authority pay a ‘resilience contract’ in a union -busting move to prevent lawful industrial action of £1,000 per firefighter per year to 100 firefighters. They maintain a reserve of £25m that could finance a moratorium while negotiations continue to avoid closure.
Shockingly, the Labour-led Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority have in fact decided in the last couple of weeks to bring forward the planned overnight closures in Liverpool City Centre and Wallasey from Jan-March 2019 to 10th September 2018 – with no consultation. No doubt they are hoping this will avoid large demonstrations at Labour Party Annual Conference. But this move has sparked fury among affected MPs, councillors, Labour Party members as well as the general public. An online petition by the FBU has collected over 8,000 signatures in the past couple of weeks, and there have been two public meetings – in Wallasey and Liverpool City Centre – calling on the Authority to think again.
The chairs and secretaries of all five Liverpool and Wallasey Constituency Labour Parties have written in uncompromising terms to the Authority and to the Labour members of the Authority:
“We call on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority immediately to stop any further cuts or planned downgrading, especially the planned night-time closure of Wallasey and the City Centre stations, whilst a moratorium takes place to consider the impact on the safety of the residents within our communities.”
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