Merger between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk fire services put on hold


- Credit: Archant

A FULL merger between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk’s fire services has been put on hold after the potential savings were not as high as previously thought.

Fred Brown, chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority, announced the change on Friday as he and deputy chief fire officer Chris Strickland laid out their plans for the next year prior to revealing the service’s planned budget.

However, he said the service was still pressing ahead with a full business case for the merger as there was still room for savings to be made through both services sharing training, IT and payroll departments.

Problems with the full merger were from the Suffolk end of the deal. The fire authority in Suffolk is still run in part by the county council and because of this system, costs and savings were not as easy to identify as in Cambridgeshire.

Mr Brown said: “A full merger could still happen and will probably take place when a clear line cannot be drawn between the two services.”

Cambridgeshire has made more than £4million savings from its budget for its 2013/14 and is asking for a Council Tax increase – £5 a year on a band D property.

But this budget will not only provide value for money but also improvements, the service has said.

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Mr Strickland said: “As we’ve been working hard to save money for the past four years, we haven’t been able to concentrate on improving how our services are delivered or our infrastructure, so we now have the opportunity to review everything we do to ensure that our tax payers get the best possible service and value for money from their fire service.”

Improvements, which along with the budget will need to be approved by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority on February 11, include the establishment of permanent operational risk and response team (ORRT) to provide additional support at large scale incidents and provide cover at retained fire stations – up to eight stations across the county can be left without crews each day.

A rescue vehicle will remain at Huntingdon fire station. The vehicle, which attends road traffic accidents, was one of the services at risk of being cut but it will remain at Huntingdon, at least during the day.

This will be in addition to the service introducing two state-of-the-art “rescue pumps” in Huntingdonshire – at St Neots and Huntingdon.

These fire engines, which have cutting equipment on board, will also be deployed in Ely, Wisbech, Cambridge and Peterborough. The first three will be in service before May.

As the new £225,000 fire engines, which are being paid for by reserves, have the capability to carry cutting equipment, the Huntingdon rescue vehicle will lose two crew members to the ORRT.

Mr Strickland said: “The rescue vehicle at Huntingdon has been needed 96 times in the last year during the night so it will remain at the station if it is needed but it will be more for special incidents like water rescues.

“The ORRT will be used for prolonged incidents to add support which means other crews are available to attend other incidents if required. The team will provide cover when retained crew numbers are low.

“If you look back to two years ago we were facing massive reductions in budget.

“What we are talking about now is a better level of service and using the extra money [from the precept] to improve the service.”