Cutting fire services 'putting lives at risk'

The blaze at a multi-storey car park near to the Echo Arena on Liverpool's waterfront
The blaze at a multi-storey car park near to the Echo Arena on Liverpool's waterfront
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A major fire at a Liverpool car park should be a warning that cutting the region's fire service is "putting lives at risk", an MP has warned.

Labour's Louise Ellman said there was no loss of life in the fire "only because of the magnificent efforts of Merseyside firefighters".

Home Secretary Amber Rudd also paid tribute to the firefighters involved.

The fire started in a car park next to the Liverpool Echo Arena on New Year's Eve.

Speaking at Home Office questions, Ms Ellman said: "The Home Secretary has already referred to the major fire that ravaged the car park at Liverpool Arena car park on New Year's Eve.

"Around 1,400 vehicles were destroyed.

"It is only because of the magnificent efforts of Merseyside firefighters that there was no loss of life.

"But would she take it as a warning that Government cuts, slashing 42 full-time appliances down to 26 now and 18 next year, are putting lives at risk?

"Will she undertake to urgently review funding for the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority?"

Ms Rudd replied: "I would point out to her the scale of the reserves that I've already highlighted and ask her to work closely with her own fire authority to ensure that they are using that wisely.

"But I would also say, following up in her comments, that I pay utmost respect and admiration for the firefighters who did such an excellent job in that particular incident."

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Ms Rudd had earlier told MPs that fire services had the resources they need and would receive around £2.3 billion next year.

She said the non-ringfenced reserves of single purpose authorities increased by 88% to £615 million between March 2011 and March 2017.

Shadow fire minister Chris Williamson hit back, saying: "We constantly hear ministers coming to the despatch box talking about reserves in the fire and rescue service as if they're some sort of magic money tree.

"But is the Secretary of State aware that most of the reserves are already earmarked for future spend?

"The annual budget for the fire and rescue service in England is £2.3 billion, yet it only holds £143 million in unallocated reserves. That's less than a month's operating costs.

"Is she seriously suggesting that capital reserves of just 6% are an adequate buffer for all emergencies? If she is, she's living in cloud cuckoo land."

Ms Rudd replied: "I think I can generously deny that I am living in any cloud cuckoo land.

"I just think he is being too lenient on these enormous reserves that have been accumulated.

"They have grown by 150%, they are 40% now of annual revenue.

"I know the Labour Party is not familiar with careful public finance guarding, and I would urge him to take a little bit more scrutiny on this matter, rather than treating it like some Venezuelan dictatorship."