Fire services could merge

Merger talks have been opened between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk’s fire services.

The drawing up of an initial business case for the union is set to be approved by Cambridgeshire’s Fire Authority on Friday, following the creation last year of the UK’s first shared control room in Huntingdon, which saved £800,000.

The link-up is being considered because of the need to save millions of pounds because of Government cuts but Neil Newberry, Cambridgeshire’s assistant chief fire officer, said it just one of many options.

He said: “We have to be realistic and it is possible that the next comprehensive spending review in 2015 could result in a further round of deep cuts to the public sector.

“Therefore, we have an obligation to make long-term plans in order to protect the frontline service that we provide to the public.

“As part of these plans we are exploring a number of options that have the possibility to make large-scale savings over the next decade.

“Merging the service fully with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is just one of these options.”

The Cambridgeshire service has already agreed to save £4.2 million by axing 60 jobs, including 30 fire fighting posts, but fears a further £1.8 million could be cut from its budget and has warned emergency response times could suffer if that happens.

Kevin Napier, Cambridgeshire secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said it had always been thought that the creation of the shared control room could lead to a full merger.

He said: “Any efficiency savings have got to be at the top because no further cuts can be made to the frontline, we are already cut to the bone.

“I would hope that, if a merger was to take place, we wouldn’t need two chief fire officers, we wouldn’t need two senior management teams, and we would have great purchasing power, and that’s where I would hope the savings could be found.

“As long as there is no detrimental effect on frontline services we probably wouldn’t be opposed.”

It is expected any merger would need parliamentary approval, and the earliest date it could be expected to happen in April 2014.

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