West fire services discuss possible merger to combat funding cuts
Avon Fire and Rescue and their counterparts in Devon and Somerset are looking at joining forces – including the possibility of a merger.
Talks have begun to see how they can work together in the future, as all emergency services have been forced to deal with Government funding cuts.
The talks, which are only in their infancy, will explore all ways of working, from potentially sharing support functions to the possibility of a full merger.
Cllr Terry Walker, the chairman of Avon Fire Authority, said: “During these challenging times we cannot rule out new ways of working to help meet our reduced budgets, whilst aiming to maintain the much-valued service we provide to the public.
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“Our initial talks with Devon and Somerset will look into how we work together.”
As previously reported, with central Government grant cuts taken into account, Avon Fire Authority’s budget for 2013/14 will be £45.922m, which is £1.831m, or 3.8 per cent less, than in 2012/13.
Cllr Mark Healey, chairman of Devon and Somerset’s Fire and Rescue Authority, was keen to stress that any plans considered would need to have tangible benefits for local people.
“Working with Avon Fire and Rescue Service could provide real opportunities for improving public safety. We recognise that the fire and rescue service has to change and, like others, face an uncertain financial future. The Government direction is clear and our times of austerity are not behind us.
“Working with another fire and rescue service may help reduce our costs, whilst continuing our aim to improve or maintain public safety.”
Chief Fire Officer Kevin Pearson (Avon) and Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell (D&S) are leading the discussions.
The current talks have been described as “preliminary” and no decisions have yet been made to the extent of any collaboration.
The Fire Brigades Union said the merger would not improve the service to the public, with regional secretary Phil Jordan adding: “Bigger is not necessarily better for the public or for firefighters. This merger is a diversion from the main issue, which is central government cutbacks to funding the fire and rescue service. Devon and Somerset only merged six years ago, yet it already plans to make cuts to one in five frontline firefighter jobs. Clearly the previous merger has not protected frontline services.”