Fire service to explore merger possibility in response to debt crisis
Talks are under way to explore the possibility of a merger between two fire services in a bid to tackle a spiralling debt crisis.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service bosses have started discussions with their Avon Fire and Rescue Service counterparts over ways the two services can work together.
The talks are due to explore a number of potential solutions that could help to meet reduced budgets, from sharing supporting functions to the possibility of a full merger.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service chairman Terry Walker said discussions with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service were still at an early stage.
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Cllr Walker 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.
"Our initial talks with Devon and Somerset will look into how we work together.”
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service chairman, Cllr Mark Healey, said: “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.”
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service announced plans last month to shed 150 jobs voluntarily in response to a grant cut by £5.5 million or 17 per cent over two years.
It also seeks to scale down three of Plymouth’s seven crews to “on-call”, doing the same with one crew in Taunton, one in Torquay and another in Ilfracombe.
Chief fire officer Lee Howell said rural operations found it harder to make savings than their urban counterparts, who have more whole-time staff and scope for cuts or changes.
Mr Howell and his Avon counterpart Kevin Pearson will lead the discussions between the two services over the coming weeks.
Both reiterated that talks were at a preliminary stage, and that no decisions had been made over the extent of how the two services could work together.