Plans to merge fire services are criticised

First published in News Salisbury Journal: Photograph of the Author by

PLANS to merge the fire brigades of Wiltshire and Dorset to save money have been criticised by senior councillors.

The county’s deputy leader John Thomson said the Wiltshire service should think about merging its back office staff with the council instead.

Head of scrutiny Cllr Simon Killane said a business case should be drawn up for linking the county’s different emergency services, while Cabinet member Toby Sturgis warned that merging control centres could lead to a loss of local knowledge.

The proposals will be explained in full when a public consultation begins in a fortnight’s time.

Both brigades are facing shortfalls of more than £3m due to government cuts.

A merger, if approved, would take effect next April.

But Cllr Thomson said the experience of the regionalisation of ambulance services made him worried.

“I personally think the Wiltshire fire service should stay as Wiltshire fire service,”

he said.

“We have seen what has happened to the ambulance service and I am very concerned.

“We think sharing facilities with Wiltshire Council is the route to go down. We are disappointed that the fire service is going down a different route.

We think that exposes them more to being regionalised.”

Cllr Thomson said he would be writing to fire chiefs urging them to reconsider.

Their reservations emerged at a meeting of the Malmesbury area board, which Cllr Thomson chairs.

A fire service spokesman said there will be presentations on the proposals to every area board in the county.

She said: “No decision to merge has been made yet.

“We have to present a business case to the fire authority in September, and work is ongoing.

“We are very similar in demographics to Dorset, with similar numbers of fire stations and proportions of retained firefighters, so it would be a partnership of equals.

“A bid is being drawn up for government funding to help support the logistics of combining, should it be agreed.”

The consultation will run from June 16 until August 24 and a decision is expected in September. To take part, go to wiltsfire.gov.uk.

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