Merger would ‘put lives at risk’

MERGING Suffolk and Cambridgeshire fire and rescue services could put lives at risk, according to the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), writes Neil Bracegirdle.

Proposals to combine the two counties are in their early stages with both facing 12 per cent budget cuts over the next four years.

But the FBU says merger plans should be approached with caution as they could hamper the emergency service provided in both areas.

Andy Vingoe, chairman of Suffolk FBU, said the problems created by the two counties sharing a control room in Huntingdon was reason enough to be wary.

“Rather than being cited as a good reason for further collaboration with Cambridgeshire, we feel the combined control room experiment should be cited as a reason for extreme caution at this stage,” he said.

“Suffolk fire crews continue to raise concerns about problems responding to 999 emergencies since the introduction of the new control room.

“We have called for these problems to be rectified as an urgent priority by senior managers in Suffolk but we remain wholly unsure what progress is actually being made.”

Suffolk Fire and Rescue has an annual budget of £22.5million and cuts have already seen its number of full-time firefighters fall from 275 to 224.

Adrian Clarke, FBU regional secretary, said the proposals needed to be the subject of “rigorous” consultation.

“Experimenting with the fire service is playing with people’s lives,” warned Mr Clarke.

“An essential emergency service needs to be given the necessary funding to maintain the critical life-saving resources based on the risks of emergencies in its area.”

A final decision on the plans is not due until next year.