Fire merger plans face rejection

FIRE chiefs in Humberside are recommending rejecting plans for a merger with North Yorkshire after council leaders said they wouldn't give it their backing.
Humberside FBU brigade chairman Rob VauxHumberside FBU brigade chairman Rob Vaux
Humberside FBU brigade chairman Rob Vaux

A report to a special meeting of Humberside Fire Authority says none of the leaders of Hull, East Riding, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire councils would support the merger proposal, a position confirmed when they met on Thursday.

Both fire services started working on a business case with a view to a merger after the Government made it a statutory duty for them to look at opportunities to work with one another better to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

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However according to the business case, a merger could see a cut in bills for fire services for ratepayers in East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire of up to £7.61 a year. But that would lead to an “immediate” deficit in funding for Humberside Fire and Rescue Service of £2.4m.

Other complicating factors include that while Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) is in favour of taking on responsibility for the service, her counterpart in Humberside, Keith Hunter, is not.

There are also questionmarks over the impact of Greater Lincolnshire devolution on the future of the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, which covers northern Lincolnshire. When asked for his view, Policing Minister Brandon Lewis wrote to say he didn’t expect to see two competing businesses cases. He also wanted the “views of local leaders, including the relevant PCCs” to be included.

According to the analysis, a combined service would achieve the same response standards as now, but 76 jobs could go - with a two to one ratio of Humberside staff affected. It said the “highest risk” would be equalisation of council tax and its impact on future funding for HFRS. Humberside FBU brigade chairman Rob Vaux said: “There wasn’t a lot Humberside was going to get from it apart from a downgrading of services.” But he added: “I don’t know how long the fire authority is going to be able to keep batting it off without the Government imposing something that isn’t beneficial to the safety of the public.”

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Brigade chair Richard Walker said the financial problems weren’t insurmountable, but would have meant more cuts. He said: “But if the political will isn’t there that’s a massive problem.”

No one was available to comment from HFRS.