Following a special meeting of Wiltshire and Swindon Combined Fire Authority held today, members voted unanimously in favour of combining with Dorset Fire and Rescue Service.
Their Dorset counterparts had already met in Dorchester on November 4th and agreed unanimously to the proposal.
The move, which follows a 13 week long public consultation on the matter, is a bid to save both fire services up to £6 million and showed an overwhelming preference from residents, businesses and partners across both counties for the combination, not just for financial reasons but also for efficiency and resilience.
Chief Fire Officer Simon Routh-Jones, as professional advisor to the Fire Authority, and Chief Finance Officer Phil Chow recommended combination with Dorset as it would enable the organisation to maintain a safe, strong and sustainable fire and rescue Service that sits in the heart of local communities.
Support for combination was subject to assurance in writing from the Department of Communities and Local Government for equalisation of the fire precept element of the council tax – ensuring that residents in Wiltshire, Swindon, Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole will all pay the same.
Work will now start to develop a Combination Order, which will need to be laid before Parliament with the intention that a new Combined Fire Authority would be formed on 1 April 2016.
The Chairman of Wiltshire and Swindon Fire Authority, Councillor Christopher Devine, said: “The public consultation carried out over 13 weeks showed a clear preference for combination over the other options. Taken alongside the potential savings, which are so necessary when our Government grant is being reduced year on year, there was only really one decision we could make. The important thing now is for us to work closely with our colleagues in Dorset and ensure that the transition from two services into one goes as smoothly as possible.”
Chief Fire Officer Simon Routh-Jones added: “I have always been certain that combination offers the best possible future for Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, our staff, and the communities that we serve. I am determined that local people will continue to have an outstanding fire and rescue service, and combination with Dorset gives us that certainty. I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to participate in the 13 week consultation, as that feedback gave us the firm foundations we needed for what has been the most important decision in the Service’s long and illustrious history.”
Chairman of Dorset Fire Authority, Councillor Rebecca Knox said: “Although this decision does not solve all our financial pressures, it gives us a superb opportunity to continue to provide people with a great service, which we can only do with larger financial savings.
“I am very appreciative of the time given by members of the community to have their say in the consultation. It was extremely important to the authority to have the views of the people it serves when making this decision.”
The new service will collaborate with Dorset County Council, Bournemouth Borough Council, the Borough of Poole, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Borough Council.
Chief Fire Officer Darren Gunter said: “My officers and staff will work very closely with their Wiltshire counterparts to ensure a safe, strong and sustainable fire and rescue service for the whole community.”