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  1. Published on: 07/11/2018 08:30 AMReported by: roving-eye
    At a meeting last week, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (MFRA) set out its strategy for lobbying the Government to obtain a better funding settlement for 2019/20. It comes in the face of shocking cuts in central government funding since 2010, which has seen MFRA forced to significantly reduce both staff numbers and the number of fire engines.

    This has resulted in the merger of fire stations in an effort to reduce costs, with an additional six stations also having to change duty systems as reductions in staff have meant 24-hour cover at every station is no longer affordable.

    Cllr Les Byrom the Chair of the Fire & Rescue Authority said: " We have had enough, over the 2010/11 to 2019/20 period, MFRA will have suffered a 50% reduction in the total grant it receives from the Government, as a consequence, over the same time period, MFRA's total revenue budget will reduce from £73.6m to £59.9m. The Government needs to think again.

    “We are determined to ensure that we can maintain a level of operational response that meets the needs of the Merseyside community but we cannot do this if our funding continues to be cut. Our staff work incredibly hard but the number of stations, engines and firefighters have all been cut drastically, thereby increasing the risk to the communities that the service works so hard to protect.”

    The plan proposed by Cllr Les Byrom and seconded by Deputy Chair Sharon Sullivan was unanimously agreed by the Authority on the 18th October. The report includes a specific motion, asking councils to formally endorse their support for MFRA and its lobby on Government.

    MFRA has experienced the worst budget reductions in the whole country.

    As part of the plans to secure a fairer funding settlement for MFRA, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Phil Garrigan, the Chair and Vice Chair, met with Merseyside MPs on Friday to discuss how further cuts can be prevented. This follows a similar meeting on 24th August 2018 convened by Mayor Joe Anderson between MFRA, the Mayor himself, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Merseyside District Council Leaders when it was agreed that all political leaders in Merseyside would jointly lobby Government in an attempt to secure an increase in funding in order to reinvest in the Service.

    MFRA and the CFO are vehemently opposed to these unassessed cuts, but recognise that however unpalatable the Authority is legally required to set a balanced budget, meaning the CFO has been forced to make recommendations he would prefer not to make, describing them as the least worst.

    As a result of savage cuts, in the decade between 2010 and 2020, there will have been a reduction in the number of immediately available fire engines from 42 to 24. The number of firefighters will have reduced from 927 to 620 and support and control staff will have reduced from 507 to 309. There will have also been a 15% cut in the number of stations, from 26 to 22.

    MFRA is demanding assurances that, as an absolute minimum Government commit to ensuring that there will be no further grant reductions applied to MFRA and that the Authority will be fully protected in relation to any new financial burdens.

    In addition to the immediate proposals, MFRA is committed to lobby the Government in the lead up to the Comprehensive Spending Review for 2019 (CSR 2019) for additional financial support for the fire and rescue service - particularly metropolitan Fire & Rescue Authorities where deprivation is a key factor in relation to fires and fire deaths.

    MFRA will now prepare a lobbying submission for the CSR 2019 to be presented to Government. This will set out the case for a funding settlement that ensures MFRA can maintain a level of operational response that meets the needs of the Merseyside community.

    The lobbying submission presented to Government will also consider the issue of improving firefighters' pay, which it recognises has fallen behind the levels of other public and private sector workers, a view shared by the Fire Brigades Union and Fire Officers Association.

    The role of the firefighter has never been more important.
     

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