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12 February 2013, 12:50
Suffolk and Cambridgeshire’s Fire and Rescue Services have agreed that their merger will not go ahead.
The announcement was made today that the merger won't be going ahead.
A consultation was started in Autumn 2012 and was set up to look at how the services could work more closely together to save money. Suffolk and Cambridgeshire also already share a call centre.
Suffolk County Council say other options are being looked into as to where money can be saved.
The report found a full merger was "unviable" at this time due to the following reasons:
1. A Government announcement that changes to the criteria for triggering a referendum on proposed council tax increases would be relaxed in 2013/14 for eight fire authorities – including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority. The relaxation has enabled them to increase their Band D equivalent council tax for 2013/14 by £5 (equivalent to a Council Tax increase of c8%), to offset some of the decrease in Government grant funding. This increase was agreed at their Fire Authority meeting on the 11 February.
The increase has significantly widened the gap between the council tax precepts for the fire services in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - with Cambridgeshire now having a council tax precept approximately £11 higher than Suffolk for a Band D property. This scenario makes the necessary process of equalising council tax, were a merger to take place, problematic.
2. Achieving a merger by April 2015 (the start of the next CSR period) would require significant support from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) - both in terms of providing necessary financial information and in facilitating the parliamentary process to achieve such a merger. There has been a great deal of engagement with DCLG but absolute assurance has not been realised in the course of the discussions.
3. The 12-week public consultation that was carried out across both Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, which finished on the 14th January, was inconclusive in terms of the appetite for a full merger – with 49% of respondents being in favour and 41% not being in favour.
4. Further work has now been carried out on the potential efficiency savings that a merger might realise. These savings are measured against a backdrop of both Services having already secured a combined c£800k per annum efficiency saving by combining 999 fire controls in the 2 services, and each Service having already made many other significant efficiency savings over the last 2 years. The assessment is that a merger would realise further savings but these would not be as significant as first thought. The extent of these savings also needs to be considered against transitional costs that would need to be met, were a merger to take place.
5. There is a considerable difference between the level of reserves held by SFRS and CFRS.
Cllr Colin Spence, Cabinet Member for Public Protection said: “It was important that we fully explored a potential merger to see how we might be able to build on the existing relationship between the two authorities. However, I was clear from the outset that we would only continue with plans for a full merger at this time if it was the right thing to do for the people of Suffolk."
Andy Fry, Chief Fire Officer said: "We have made significant savings through merging our control rooms and we will continue to try and identify further options to work to together and share resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone connected with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service for their ongoing commitment and dedication to protecting the people of Suffolk. “