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Fire merger is the best way forward
A WILTSHIRE fire chief has said a merger with a neighbouring fire authority is the best move forward for both services.
It was announced last week that talks are underway to combine Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service with Dorset to cut costs.
Government grants make up about 40 per cent of the overall funding in Wiltshire but are expected to be cut in half by the end of the decade.
This has left the services needing to plug a gap of £4m or implement a potentially disastrous round of cuts, with some estimates saying 70 of the county’s 144 full-time firefighters would need to go.
Chief Fire Officer Simon Routh-Jones said joining with Dorset would allow Wiltshire to keep a high level of frontline services, although he could not rule out cuts.
He said: “In many ways Dorset is a similar force to ours, so any changes would hopefully not be too dramatic.
“We both cover similar areas that are predominately rural and much of our cover is provided by on-call firefighters.
“We also share demographics and have comparable risks, such as a high number of thatched properties. Already we both work on combined initiatives because of our close proximity.”
Over the next nine months a business case will be put together to determine exactly what the new service would look like.
Both services need to make savings but it is hoped the merger will find the majority of those.
Combined they will make up the fourth largest fire service, giving them greater negotiating powers when buying equipment. It is hoped bringing together back office services, such as a combined control room in Potterne, will also cut costs.
Alternative mergers were looked at but were ruled out in favour of the Dorset option.
“On a national level there have been discussions on ways for the fire service to save money as the budget cuts are being faced all over the country,” said Mr Routh-Jones.
“There was mention of joining up with the police or ambulance services but in the end the best way forward was to go with a fire-fire combination.
“We will now develop the business plan, which we will then present to our relevant fire authorities in September 2014. If everything went to plan the changes could come into force by 2016.”
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