ST HELENS Council has “demanded” the removal of the cap on council tax in order to offset cuts to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (MFRA).

This week a motion was passed at full council calling for the removal of the government-imposed cap on council tax flexibility relating to the fire precept.

The council tax cap was raised to just under 3 per cent for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Addressing members, council leader Derek Long called the matter a “life or death issue”.

The Labour leader said there has been a 50% reduction in real terms of the total grant support for MFRA, around £13.7 million between 2010-2020.

The implication of these cuts, he said, has resulted in the loss of around 300 firefighters as well as a reduction of fire engines that has seen the response time for ‘life risk incidents’ fall by 35 seconds.

“This is about life and death,” Cllr Long said.

“This is not some cheap throwing around of political issues, we are trying to protect the residents of our borough.

“Life and limb.”

Cllr Long said that during periods of high demand, particularly during the summer months, the service reverted to emergency calls only.

The number of homes safety visits has also halved from 100,000 to 50,000.

Cllr Long said the council has tried to convince government that the cuts are not appropriate and an unfair hit upon residents.

The Labour leader said MFRA’s chief fire officer Phil Garrigan met with Nick Hurd, the minister of state for policing and the fire service, last week and asked for the cuts imposed on the authority be reversed and that the case for increased funding be considered on the basis of public safety.

Cllr Long said the minister was urged to prioritise government reinvestment in the fire and rescue services, particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower fire and heightened terrorist threats.

The Labour leader said the minister refused a request for in-year council tax flexibility to offset the cuts, although he agreed to consider all representations moving forward.

Cllr Long said: “These are St Helens borough lives and limbs at risk as a result of these reductions.

“That is why we are moving this resolution and I hope that all colleagues within the chamber will support that resolution on that basis.”

An amended motion submitted by Conservative group leader Allan Jones that removed all reference to the word “demand” and replaced it with “ask for” was rejected by members.

Moss Bank councillor Paul Lynch accused ministers of ignoring previous requests to reverse the cuts and said “escalation is necessary”.

The Labour councillor said the fire and rescue service and the police service are struggling due to “catastrophic” reductions.

Thatto Heath councillor Richard McCauley argued that the word demand was not strong enough.

Cllr McCauley said: “Cuts cost lives. We demand this.”

The motion said the cuts imposed by government on MFRA have gone “too far” and should be reversed to ensure public safety is protected.

The motion said the council will work in collaboration with MFRA, district councils, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham, MPs, the Fire Brigades Union and all trade unions to jointly lobby government to reverse the cuts.

The council and its partners will also lobby for increased funding for MFRA on the basis of public safety.

The motion was approved following a vote. Conservative councillors Allan Jones, Rob Reynolds and Linda Mussell all abstained from the vote.

The decision comes just one week after cabinet agreed, “in principle”, to raise council tax by 2.99 per cent from April 2019 – the maximum without the need of a referendum – although it will be subject to a public consultation.

Merseyside police and crime commissioner Jane Kennedy is also currently consulting residents on a rise of the police precept, which is collected alongside the council tax.

The commissioner said the hike will help protect 100 police officer jobs and to recruit 40 new officers.