Suffolk: Fire merger talks to continue

NEGOTIATIONS which could lead to a full merger between Suffolk’s fire service and that in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are moving forward.

The county has already outsourced its control room to the Cambridgeshire service – all emergency calls from Suffolk are now handled in Huntingdon after the Ipswich control centre closed last year.

Now it is considering a full merger – and yesterday’s meeting of the county’s cabinet heard that a final decision would have to be made by February next year, otherwise any merger plans would have to be put on hold until after the next general election – probably until 2016 at the earliest.

Colin Spence, the cabinet member whose responsibilities include the fire service, said the Suffolk service was one of the most efficient in the country – but it had to look at ways of saving money.

He said; “With the increasing challenge to deliver budget savings and maintain a fire service that people value, at a time when further cuts are likely, it is crucial that we look at ways to work together to safeguard the service for the future.”

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In future it could be run by a joint board made up of councillors from Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Peterborough – with no one authority having a majority.

Labour group leader Sandy Martin warned there were three criteria needing to be addressed: “You need to be concerned about effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability.

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“You need to be sure that any merged service would be as effective as it is at present. You need to ensure it is much more efficient than it is at present, because it will be much less accountable than it is at present.”

The issue is to be discussed again at the end of the year, with a final decision due to be made in early 2013.

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