Chairman quits in merger row
5:30am Tuesday 17th June 2014 in By Mike Benke, @Michael_Benke
THE former chairman of the local fire authority has stepped down after feeling he lacked support over moves to merge Wiltshire and Dorset Fire Services.
Wiltshire councillor Graham Payne (Con, Trowbridge Drynham) said he did not seek re-election at a meeting last week over plans to postpone a consultation on the proposal.
Wiltshire Fire and Rescue is facing large cuts in government funding amounting to 20 per cent of its overall budget over the next few years, and is looking at ways of reducing costs.
The merger is being proposed as a way of saving £4m without cutting frontline services, but other members of the board want to consider alternative options.
A public consultation was due to start yesterday on the proposal, but it was delayed after members wanted to look at other options, such as sharing services and office space with the police.
However, Coun Payne believes some members of the authority are playing politics over the issue and are risking the county’s long term fire cover.
He said: “I am 100 per cent behind the merger as I feel it is the best way to avoid cuts and job losses on the frontline, which will severely compromise the response times.
“Within two years we need to find these savings so the process needs to begin. The consultation would have been the perfect way to start this discussion but unfortunately it has been delayed.
“I wanted to start but because I felt I did not have the support of the board I could not continue as chairman.
“I think some are concerned if the merger goes ahead then they will lose control, and it is becoming political, which the fire service should never be.”
The new chairman Christopher Devine (Con, Winterslow) denied this was the reason and said it was important for the board to consider all its options.
He said: “The authority simply wishes for more time to consider all the options before making any decision.
“The merger with Dorset is not the only option on the table so it is right and proper in a democratic society for us to consider everything before we go to the public.
“The consultation will be a chance to ask the people of Swindon and Wiltshire what they think about the proposals before we move forward. There is nothing more to it.”
Coun Payne has said that if the merger does not go ahead then two of Swindon’s full-time fire stations may need to go part time, potentially doubling the response time in the town.
A spokesman for Wiltshire Fire Service said: “Wiltshire & Swindon Fire Authority and Dorset Fire Authority were due to start consultation on a number of options, including a preferred option to combine and work more closely with local councils, police and other public services on Monday June 16.
“ Due to feedback requesting that we consider extending the consultation beyond the holiday period, together with the nomination of a new chairman and members to Wiltshire & Swindon Fire Authority, and in order to provide more time to finalise the consultation documents, the consultation period is now due to start on Monday July 21, running until October 20. All of the relevant information will be added to our website, www.wiltsfire.gov.uk at that time.”