Fire service merger bid decisively rejected by Cornwall councillors
A MERGER creating one giant fire service covering most of the South West has been kicked out after Cornwall councillors unanimously rejected ceding control of the county's fire service.
The line in the sand was drawn in the wake of a meeting which examined whether Cornwall's fire service should explore linking with Devon and Somerset.
Earlier this year, Avon Fire and Rescue Authority also considered and rejected a merger with the Exeter-based service.
Geoff Brown, the ward councillor for Newquay Central who is also chairman of Cornwall Council's Homes and Communities Portfolio Advisory Committee, said: "Cornwall's fire service stays in Cornwall.
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"It was a unanimous vote. We have got no appetite whatsoever to look at a merger. The committee told officers to spend no more time exploring the possibilities."
The cost-cutting bid had been put on the agenda amid fears of scything cuts to the county's service.
A recommendation had been made that a merger with the Devon and Somerset service should be explored if negotiations had demanded more than a £2.25 million reduction in the budget.
It said frontline services would have been protected by cuts to senior management ranks.
But Mr Brown said the feeling was that there was too much to be lost.
"The ceiling for impact on frontline services was £2.25 million. If we reach that point we [decided that we] need to look at other solutions rather than amalgamation.
"Nobody wants this. Our fire and rescue service is lean and efficient."
Mr Brown added that members decided the earliest this decision could be reconsidered was 2018; "I'm really pleased," he said.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) had urged Cornwall Council not to press ahead with discussions, saying more than money was at stake.
"Bigger is not always better, and firefighters believe a merger would threaten public safety in Cornwall," said South West FBU secretary, Phil Jordan.
"A merger would mean Cornwall would lose control of its service, and decisions about its operation would be handed to a fire authority covering three counties."
Proposals to create a regional fire service have always been controversial. In 2010, government plans to regionalise control centres were scrapped after an estimated £500 million loss.
The plans would have seen local emergency fire control rooms close and replaced with one regional call centre.
A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue said it was known that Cornwall had been considering exploring a merger, but "no discussions have taken place".
The scale of the two fire services would certainly have made Cornwall the junior partner: on the western side of the Tamar, the fire and rescue budget is just over £22 million, which pays for two 24-hour fire stations, five daytime staffed ones and 24 retained stations.
There are over 700 members of staff, including 202 full-time and 412 part-time firefighters.
But it is dwarfed by the Devon and Somerset operation, whose budget is just shy of £77 million, paying for 85 fire stations and approximately 2,300 staff, of which 800 are full-time.