A PUBLIC consultation on whether Wiltshire’s fire service should merge with Dorset’s is back on after a political row.

But significant changes are being made to the consultative document at the centre of the falling-out between Conservative councillors which led to the authority’s chairman, Graham Payne, being ousted.

The original paper, drawn up by the two counties’ chief fire officers, put forward a detailed business case for a merger as the only way to avoid cuts which would mean closing retained fire stations such as Wilton and downgrading Salisbury, with up to half Wiltshire’s firefighters losing their jobs.

Each service is facing the prospect of annual budget shortfalls exceeding £3m in a couple of years’ time.

Wiltshire Council, however, wants to take over the county fire service’s back office functions, as it has done with the police, and this is what led to the Tory split and the postponement of the consultation last month.

Such a move would save £800,000 a year. It would prevent the merger and would require frontline cuts.

This option, and a variation on it which would still require frontline cuts, are likely to be included in the consultation document.

The consultation will begin on Monday, July 21 and run for 13 weeks. It will involve focus groups of randomly selected residents, business and voluntary group forums, and questionnaires available in public buildings and online. The issue will also be discussed at area board meetings.

A decision will be made in November.