UP TO 10 Merseyside fire stations could be saved after the service convinced the government to lessen the blow of funding cuts.
But Merseyside Fire and Rescue still faces an agonising decision on whether to keep swift response times or make savings on the costly overheads of running the stations, which could have to close when further cuts come in the future.
Chief fire officer Dan Stephens will later this month put the options to the councillors who form the Merseyside Fire Authority.
There are currently 26 fire stations across the region. The money the authority had feared it might lose could be used to keep them all open with one fire engine in each, or close 10 of them and have 16 stations, some of which could have two appliances in them.
The stations most at risk are understood to be Heswall, West Kirby, Allerton, Aintree and Eccleston
In an exclusive interview with the Post, Mr Stephens said the choice was difficult, and that there were advantages to each. And while he said the financial situation was still grim, it was not as bad as it could have been.
He paid tribute to the support of campaigning from the Post and our sister paper the Echo in successfully lobbying the government.
Mr Stephens added: “In simplistic terms we could afford 26 fire engines and have 26 stations with one in each, which would give us a quicker response time, but if I’m honest, in a financial sense, we would probably be better off with the other option.”
He said the overheads included everything from heating and lighting to IT infrastructure.
But keeping the stations open would allow the service to continue with its highly valuable community fire safety initiatives aimed at educating the public about fires.
Mr Stephens added that further cutbacks could mean that saving the stations was only “delaying the inevitable.”
Further cuts would likely come from the Government in 2015, which could force the authority to look seriously at closing any stations that were saved.
But this year’s settlement has not been as bad as was feared.
In the first two years of cuts, the authority had to make savings of around £9.5m – twice the national average reductions in funding.
In the next two years that figure will be around £10m, less than expected, as the cuts were expected to be “back-loaded”, meaning they would be worst in the second round, which leads up to 2015.
But Mr Stephens said: “I’m grateful to everyone who has supported us in the lobbying, particularly the Post with its campaign. And I am grateful to all our Merseyside MPs, and everyone else who has helped us.”
However, there will still inevitably be job cuts. with Mr Stephens anticipating around 100 staff, equivalent to around 10% of the workforce.
Mr Stephens, along with the chief officers of other services, have warned the government of “potentially catastrophic consequences” of cuts in staff.
But the government has said it did not accept cuts could not be made without damaging front line services, and has promoted “sharing chief officers” and cutting “backroom costs”.