PROPOSALS to merge Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fire services were hanging by a thread today after the link-up was delayed indefinitely.

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In December, Suffolk admitted that the earliest the merger could take place was 2015 – but warned that the following year was more likely.

Now the chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough fire authority has said that potential savings were not as great as had initially been thought – and that meant the merger had been put on hold.

Fred Brown told his authority: “A full merger could still happen and will probably take place when a clear line cannot be drawn between the two services.”

However, there was now no timescale for the link-up.

The revelation comes less than two months after Suffolk’s cabinet member responsible for public safety, Colin Spence, said that any merger was at least two years away.

And he warned: “Before any decision is taken, a joint full business case must be presented for consideration by the fire authorities in both Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

“There is a considerable amount of work to do to ensure the business case provides members with the necessary information on which they can take a properly informed decision about the future of both services.”

There was a public consultation about the future of the fire service at the end of last year – but now it looks as if the full merger is unlikely.

However, Mr Brown did say that the two authorities would continue to work closer together – they already share a control room at Huntingdon. There was still room for further savings to be made through shared training, firefighter training and back-office functions.

Mark Hardingham, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service’s deputy chief fire officer, said: “The most recent developments have provided a strong indication that a potential merger will not go ahead at this time.

“However, no formal decision has yet been taken.

“These developments are associated with the necessary assurances from DCLG, the outcome of the recent public consultation and the potential relaxation on council tax referendum limits that have been afforded to eight fire authorities, including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority.”

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