THE merger of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk fire services could take place within two years – with brigade union officials claiming it could help save front-line jobs.
Senior Suffolk county councillors met yesterday (Tuesday) and agreed to ask for a full business case on the cost-cutting proposal, which could see a new super-brigade of more than 1,000 full-time and retained firefighters formed.
The review of services will also look at working more closely with Cambridgeshire, stopping short of a full merger.
Cambridgeshire Fire Authority will be considering the same proposal at its meeting next Thursday (May 24)
The potential savings are still not clear because there would need to be significant reorganisation alongside any merger – especially in Suffolk. But during the only other merger of its kind in the country – of Devon and Somerset fire services in 2007 – around 150 non-uniformed posts were cut, although about 60 were later reinstated.
Suffolk’s FBU chairman Andy Vingoe said his members still felt that merging the administrations could be the best way to preserve frontline fire cover. But he felt differences would remain between the two counties.
“The members do not seem to be that concerned about the proposed merger because they feel it might be the best way to safeguard the frontline service.
There have been cuts over the years and we know budgets are under pressure so many feel this could help retain the current level of service.
“From what we have seen with the control room it does look as if Cambridgeshire would be in the driving seat. It is a larger authority (it includes Peterborough), but I think the two counties would have to be run as separate districts under one authority.”
Meanwhile, deputy county fire officer Mark Hardingham said that, if the county opted for full merger, there would need to be considerable changes to its administration.
There are currently 67 non-uniformed administrative staff employed by the fire service.
But it relies on other county council or Customer Service Direct staff for many of its functions – including human resources and IT. Cambridgeshire Fire Authority currently has 122 administrative staff handling all back-office functions.