Fire jobs and station axed by cost-cutting

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Union leaders have branded a proposal to shut Whiston fire station and axe 22 firefighters’ jobs as “a cut too far”.

The plans were revealed as part of a radical shake-up of brigade services across St Helens and Knowsley.

Brigade chiefs want to close Whiston and Huyton fire stations and build a new station in Prescot covering both areas.

The cost of the new station is likely to top £2.8m but, crucially, bosses estimate the move will save around £863,000 every year.

However, Les Skarretts, Merseyside branch secretary of Fire Brigade Union, said the service had already been cut “beyond the bone”.

He said: “We are opposed to job losses and station closures and we are seeking immediate dialogue with the brigade hierarchy. These government cuts have to stop but we don’t believe that closing stations is the best way to save money.

“We believe there are other ways and the best place to start is by going through the entire budget and making sure everything that is there is absolutely necessary before we even think about touching frontline service.”

As part of a cost-cutting package announced earlier this year, fire chiefs will also shut St Helens and Eccleston fire stations and merge them into one combined station based in the town centre.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue’s chief fire officer Dan Stevens said: “Over the last four years the service has had to make savings of £20m as a result of cuts to our Government grant.

“We must now make further savings of £6.3m in 2015/16 and our expectation is that there will be more grant reductions in the following years. We are continuing to make significant savings in support service costs.”

Fire chiefs point out call-outs have plummeted over the past decade by 55 per cent across Merseyside, and in Whiston a reduction of 55.9 per cent (from 891 incidents during 2004/5 to 393 during 2013/14). However, this is partly the result of pro-active initiatives by firefighters and unions believe job cuts will jeopardise that work.

Seeking to allay safety fears, brigade bosses estimate the average response time from the new combined station would be five minutes and nine seconds, quicker that current response times from Whiston but five seconds slower than from Huyton.

* A consultation exercise is now set to take place with public meetings at Rainhill High School on June 10, the Lord Derby Academy, on June 12 and St Edmund Arrowsmith, Whiston on June 17. The Rainhill meeting starts at 7.30pm and the Huyton and Whiston meetings from 6pm.