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MERGER OF TWO COUNTY FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICES

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The chief fire officers of Somerset and Devon Fire and Rescue Services have recommended a full combination of the t...
The chief fire officers of Somerset and Devon Fire and Rescue Services have recommended a full combination of the two organisations to deliver efficiencies and service improvements to local people.

The merger would create the largest non-metropolitan fire and rescue service in England and Wales, with a front line service of almost 2,000 uniformed staff and 220 non-uniformed support staff.

The move represents one of the most important changes to the fire and rescue services in Somerset and Devon since the local government re-organisation in 1973/4.

Clive Kemp, chief fire officer of Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, said: 'It has become clear that both organisations need to increase their capacity to meet the government's improvement agenda for fire and rescue services.

'We must deliver increasing efficiency savings while expanding the service's role in community safety and non-fire emergencies such as rescues.

'Neither service has the ability to meet those demands on their own without placing an additional burden on council tax payers.'

The benefits of full combination include:

* Significant opportunities for improvements resulting from benefits of scale

* Improved quality of service from a wider base of skilled employees

* Improved career development opportunities for staff

* Enhanced value for money benefiting the council taxpayer over time

It has been estimated that full combination could realise savings of more than£3 million over five years, which could be re-invested into community safety and/or lessen the burden on the council taxpayer.

Paul Young, chief fire officer of Devon Fire and Rescue Service, said: 'To do nothing could potentially result in a gradual decline in our services. Full combination offers the way forward for the future and needs to be grasped now.'

The number of front line services such as the fire stations, appliances or front line firefighters would not be reduced by the combination.

In delivering full combination, the services would avoid compulsory redundancies by using measures such as redeployment, re-training, or voluntary arrangements.

The recommendation of both chief fire officers comes after the publication of an Options Appraisal document last year and a full business case published this month.

The process has been led by a joint project board and monitored by a joint members' steering group.

The members' steering group endorsed the recommendations of the chief officers on 4 April. In turn it has recommended that both the Devon Fire and Rescue Authority and Somerset CC should also agree. In doing so both authorities will consider any submissions made by the representative bodies.

Jim Mochnacz, portfolio holder for Somerset CC, said: 'The growing demands on the fire and rescue service requires that we consider different ways of delivering our services. Combination is right for the service as well as for the communities that we serve.'

Bernard Hughes, chairman of the Devon Fire and Rescue Authority, said: 'This historic opportunity needs to be grasped now in order to both improve services for the future and protect the interests of the council taxpayer.'

The recommendations will be considered by the Somerset CC scrutiny committee on 18 April and the executive board on 26 April. Devon Fire and Rescue Authority will make their decision the previous day (25 April).

The proposal would then require the approval of the secretary of state through a combination scheme order.

While the scheme is going through the legal process of parliament, a combined shadow fire and rescue authority would be set up, with full combination planned to take effect from 1 April 2007.

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