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 Service 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 other 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 then they will lose control and it is becoming political, which the fire service should never be.”

Coun Payne is concerned that if the merger does not go ahead then some full-time fire stations may need to go part-time, potentially increasing response times.

“There are possibly some savings to be found not merging,” said Coun Payne.

“However, from what we have found out, it will only save about £700,000 leaving us with another £3m to find. Extending the process simply prolongs the time.”

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 to 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, at that time.”

The new authority chairman, Coun Chris Devine (Con, Winterslow), was not available to comment.