Cornwall fire chief warns budget cuts may force merger

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Cornwall's chief fire officer has warned a merger with Devon and Somerset's service could be the "only realistic option" to protect services.

Des Tidbury said if more than £2m was cut from the fire budget over the next five years, it could jeopardise safety.

A voluntary merger would "absolve financial responsibility" from Cornwall Council, he said in a report for the unitary authority.

Councillors rejected the proposals after discussing the report on Friday.

Start Quote

Councillors should knock this on the head straight away”

End Quote Phil Jordan Fire Brigades Union

The council has already saved £170m but must try to save a further £40m by 2016 and £100m by 2018.

Mr Tidbury's report said this meant some cuts to frontline services could be "inevitable".

It added that councillors had to be aware that if funding dropped below a minimum threshold, "firefighter and public safety as well as the provision of essential emergency and community safety services may become jeopardised".

The report said it would be at this point that Cornwall's fire service structure might need to change "to deliver the scale of efficiencies required".

Before the meeting, Councillor Geoff Brown, the council's cabinet member responsible for the fire service, said merging fire services was only one option, but added: "We are faced with some pretty demanding budget constraints."

Job losses

In July, the council wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May to oppose any plans for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to come under the control of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner.

Any such transfer of control "would inevitably lead to merger with other services, control moving to Exeter and the loss of jobs in Cornwall", Mr Tidbury's report said.

Phil Jordan, from the Fire Brigades Union, said councillors had to oppose any plans to merge fire services.

"Evidence shows it doesn't actually help improve the service - in fact it makes it worse," he told BBC News.

"Devon and Somerset are facing massive cuts and Avon turned down the chance of merging with them."

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