92 firefighters face the sack

MORE than 90 firefighters are set to lose their jobs as a result of “swingeing” Government budget cuts.

Merseyside Fire Authority bosses confirmed the loss of more than 170 jobs in total after it received “the worst Government grant cut of any UK Fire Authority” – a 13 per cent reduction over the next two years.

As a result, the authority has set a financial plan that will cut costs by £9 million over the next two years.

It is, however, unclear at this stage how many jobs are set to go in St Helens.

Fire chiefs say savings will be achieved via a three-year pay freeze, a £2.4m cut in management and back office costs and “efficiencies” in frontline staffing.

It is hoped that all firefighter reductions – 92 in total – will be achieved through not replacing retiring staff, as opposed to making compulsory redundancies.

Among the other money-saving plans is a change to shift patterns at Whiston Fire Station, which could see local firefighters work longer hours for the same money.

Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk said: “The Government cuts are unprecedented and will have an impact on an organisation which has led the way in making the service more successful and efficient over the last decade.

“Eighty per cent of our costs are staff related so it is impossible to make savings of this size without impacting on jobs. Our focus has to be on maintaining frontline services.”

Tony Newman, chair of the Fire Authority, agreed: “The size of Government cuts means that job losses are unavoidable but we will be doing everything we can to mitigate the effect on individual staff while maintaining frontline services.”

Most council tax payers will continue to pay £43.18 annually for their fire and rescue service – which equates to just 12p a day.

But the Government has already indicated that they could make even bigger budget cuts in years to come.

Tony McGuirk added: “We have a very strong case to put to Government about the role of the larger fire and rescue authorities which face the highest risk of fire and provide most of the national resilience in the event of a major incident.

“We want to avoid a stark choice a few years down the line of significant service reductions or large-scale taxation increases.”