Merger with Suffolk may be the “only way” to save Cambridgeshire’s frontline firefighters, fire service says

FIRE services in Cambridgeshire could be merged with Suffolk in a drastic bid to save long-term costs.

The county’s Fire Authority has already slashed �4.2 million from its budget and agreed on how it could cut another �2 million as it tries to protect firefighters on the frontline from the chop.

However Chairman Fred Brown said: “If we believe what central Government is putting out, this is only the start of the process.”

That has led him to believe a merger may be necessary to safeguard frontline services and make the reductions needed - even though Cambridgeshire is “one of the leanest” fire and rescue services in the UK.

“This is about what will benefit the people of Cambridgeshire, so we have got a duty to look at it.” he said.

Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg went further and said a merger was “the only way we can make further savings while safeguarding the frontline”.

A Joint Steering Group with Fire Authority members from both areas has now been established to look at the option in more detail.

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The amount of money the move would save has not yet been calculated but Councillor Brown said savings would main come through employee costs, which currently make up 72 per cent of the fire service’s budget to the tune of �22.6 million.

A deal would also need to be cut about whether the new merged service headquarters would be in Cambridgeshire or Suffolk but Cllr Brown said it was “premature” to consider that at this stage.

If the move did come to fruition, he said: “Hopefully, the public will see no difference. In fact, they will see an enhanced service.”

He added that if it was decided to go ahead, there would be full consultation with members of the public.

Cambridgeshire has already combined its control room with Suffolk in a bid to save cash.

Mr Stagg added: “We know that further budget cuts after 2015 are very likely.

“Therefore a sensible option for us is to look at collaborating further with another fire service or even merging services.

“This is a positive an sensible move for us in the current financial climate and it is the only way we can make further savings while safeguarding the frontline.”

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