Councillor on verge of quitting over fire service merger row
Veteran Trowbridge councillor Graham Payne could be close to quitting the Tory party over a row about the merger of Wiltshire and Dorset fire services.
The Wiltshire councillor is upset that fellow Conservatives have not backed his support for the merger.
Last month he resigned as chairman of the Combined Fire Authority of the Wiltshire and Swindon Fire and Rescue Service as he did not feel he had support of the board.
Sources close to Cllr Payne, who has been a councillor for 38 years, said he is now considering resigning from the Conservative party. It is understood he has been approached by a number of parties or become an independent.
Cllr Payne said: “The people of Wiltshire only really care about how quickly fire fighters get to a call they do not mind what county is on the badge or on the side of the fire engine.
“I feel very strongly about this issue but I want the people of Wiltshire to be the ones that make the decision.
"We have to find a way to save £3.8 million and if the merger doesn’t happen that could mean fire stations close and we lose fire fighters.”
He said he was not surprised that North Wiltshire MP James Gray had opposed the merger as he had spoken out against it when the two men met earlier this year.
But Mr Gray said he was unaware that his decision to voice protest at the merger had upset Cllr Payne.
He said “I don’t know Graham Payne from Santa Claus. I have never heard of the man. I have opposed this merger as I do not think it would be good for my constituents.”
Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott denied that senior Tories in North Wiltshire had colluded to oppose the merger.
She said: “I am not necessarily against the merger. But I think we need to have more information before we make this decision.
"It is ridiculous to suggest this is some sort of North Wiltshire cabal that is just people being mischievous.”
“If Graham was to go it would be a shame. He has been a councillor for a long time but he has been an independent before in the past.”
The consultation was due to start on June 12 but has now been delayed until July 21. It will run to October 20.
Cllr Jeff Osborn has tabled a motion calling for support for the merger at a full council meeting on Tuesday, July 29.