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UPDATE: Dorset Fire and Rescue set to combine with another service
9:22am Friday 13th December 2013 in News
DORSET Fire and Rescue could be merging its services with Wiltshire and Swindon in a bid to cope with funding cuts.
Members of both fire authorities have agreed to work towards developing a business case to combine the services in two years' time.
With central government funding to be substantially reduced, a spokeswoman for Dorset Fire and Rescue said the shortfall cannot be sustained without a significant impact on frontline services.
The merger would mean a joint command and control centre would be operated in Potterne, Wiltshire, from 2015.
A joint statement from Councillor Rebecca Knox, Chairman of Dorset Fire Authority, and Councillor Graham Payne, Chairman of Wiltshire and Swindon Fire Authority, said: “Both Services have and continue to make substantial savings, but the level of grant we receive from Government will continue to decline.
“In order to minimise any impact on the level of response we provide to our communities, Members of both Fire Authorities have agreed to explore closer working with a view to the combination in 2016.
“We estimate that this will provide significant savings, lessen the reductions to front line services thus assist us in maintaining emergency response standards and make us more resilient.”
It is estimated that by 2017 Dorset Fire and Rescue Service would face a financial deficit of up to £3.7million.
If the merger is approved both locally and nationally, the service would become the fourth biggest in the country outside of London, with a combined budget of £55million.
In a joint statement Darran Gunter, Chief Fire Officer of Dorset, and Simon Routh-Jones, Chief Fire Officer of Wiltshire, said: “Our priority is to protect the services we provide to the public.
“As individual relatively small fire and rescue services we cannot sustain the continued reductions in Government grant and look to maintain as far as possible response standards without significant change to our organisations. In order to protect frontline services to the best of our ability, we have concluded that the best solution is for the two organisations to combine.
“Together, we can achieve so much more and combination will give us an opportunity to explore new ways of working.
“As well as achieving significant savings, this will give us greater resilience and allow us to continue providing an efficient and effective Fire & Rescue Service to our local communities.”
Fire Brigades Union hits out at plans
The Fire Brigades Union in Dorset and Wiltshire hit out at the Government over continued cuts in funding which it said was impacting on frontline services.
FBU Brigade Secretary for Dorset, Karen Adams, said: “It's time that politicians understood the real damage that their cuts are doing, and a merger with Wiltshire will not resolve the key issue for fire and rescue services, which is funding.
“Dorset's fire control room is a vital resource for the safety of communities in Dorset, and the idea of one emergency fire control room covering both counties is untenable.
“Fire control staff are highly skilled members of our team, and our priority will always be to protect the frontline services and our members that deliver it."
FBU Brigade Secretary for Wiltshire, Brent Thorley, said the merger proposals were a surprise for many staff:
"We were aware of talks about shared services but did not expect it to go this far.
“We have been facing cuts in the fire service for several years now with the government exerting pressure to cut frontline services.
“What we need to see is the detail: where is the democracy and accountability? We want to know how this will impact on response times, the service to the public and what it will mean for the firefighters themselves".
FBU Executive Member for the South West, Tam McFarlane, said: “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, which are rapidly leading to a crisis in fire and rescue services and driving brigades to the brink of insolvency.
“Devon and Somerset merged six years ago and are about to cut one in five frontline firefighter jobs, demonstrating that mergers do not provide a long-term, viable solution to protect frontline services.”
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