CABINET has agreed to pursue proposals for closer working between Suffolk and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough fire and rescue services, starting with a three-month consultation asking people in both counties to have their say.
Today (16 October), councillors considered a first stage business case, which examined two options for collaborative working as a means of protecting both fire and rescue services from future cost pressures.
Cabinet’s discussion came just a few days after Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s fire authority agreed a similar approach.
The decision on whether to go ahead with a merger will not be taken until early in the New Year, when Cabinet and Full Council will consider a fully developed business case and feedback from public consultation.
Councillor Colin Spence, cabinet member for public protection said; “With the increasing challenge to deliver budget savings and maintain a fire service that people value, at a time when further cuts are likely, it is crucial that we look at ways to work together to safeguard the service for the future.
“We have already identified significant savings to our annual budget which have minimised cuts to the front line service, which means everything from fire fighter jobs to fire stations around the county. However, with the second Comprehensive Spending Review around the corner, and other likely cost pressures, we have no alternative but to consider every option, and greater collaboration through to a merger with Cambridgeshire offers considerable potential benefits.”
A future merger of the two fire services would include sharing essential support services, such as IT and human resources, all operating under a single management team across the two counties. Suffolk and Cambridgeshire have already collaborated on a combined 999 emergency fire control centre based at Huntingdon, which opened in October 2011.
Andy Fry, Suffolk’s Chief Fire Officer said;“Throughout this process, we will be guided by our core principle, which is to deliver the best possible service to the people of both counties, in a way that is fair and minimises the financial impact to taxpayers in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
“This is an incredibly important opportunity to adapt to the changing economic and environmental circumstances, which stands to secure the service and frontline jobs alike.”
Graham Stagg, Chief Fire Officer for Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service said; "We cannot ignore what is happening in the wider world. The financial situation for public sector organisations does not look like it is improving and we need to be prepared for the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2015 in which it is likely that further cuts to fire and rescue service budgets will be made. In order to prepare for this, we need to fully examine all the options that we have for saving further money from this date, without impacting on our frontline resources."
The consultation begins on Monday 22 October 2012 and will end on Monday 14 January 2013. A short questionnaire is available from the county council’s website alongside a detailed consultation booklet, interim business case and today’s Cabinet paper. Copies of the booklet will also be available in libraries and other locations, with drop-in events to be announced next month.
Councillor Spence continued; “Today’s decision marks an important milestone in considering options for future collaboration or merger with Cambridgeshire. The final decision will not be taken until next year, by which time we will have all the information we need to ensure that this is a properly informed decision.”
The development of the business case will be considered by the council’s Scrutiny committee in December 2012. A final business case will be considered and provisionally decided by the council’s Cabinet, with a final decision to be taken by Full Council in February 2013.