Fire Brigade Union criticises preliminary merger talks between Avon Fire and Rescue Service and Devon and Somerset
AVON Fire and Rescue Service has announced talks over a possible merger with its Devon and Somerset counterpart.
Bosses say working together would save money and meet tough government cuts to both organisations’ budgets. But unions have criticised the preliminary talks and argued they have come out of the blue.
The Fire Brigades Union said the surprise announcement that the two services were in talks over a merger was a diversion from the main issue of cutbacks.
Phil Jordan, FBU regional secretary for the South West, said: "Bigger is not necessarily better for the public or for firefighters.
"This merger is a diversion from the main issue, which is central government cutbacks to funding the fire and rescue service. Devon and Somerset only merged six years ago, yet it already plans to make cuts to one in five frontline firefighter jobs. Clearly the previous merger has not protected frontline services."
Avon FBU brigade secretary Chris Taylor added: "Where is the democracy and accountability?
"We want to know how this will impact on response times and what it will mean for our conditions. Senior management want to build their mini-empires of influence – we’re interested in defending our service and protecting our communities."
But Cllr Terry Walker, chairman of Avon Fire Authority, said the talks were only in their initial stages and any combined service would be looking to improve effectiveness.
He said: "During these challenging times we cannot rule out new ways of working to help meet our reduced budgets, whilst aiming to maintain the much valued service we provide to the public.
"Our initial talks with Devon and Somerset will look into how we work together."
The initial talks will look to explore all ways of working from potentially sharing supporting functions to the possibility of a full merger, the services said. Devon and Somerset Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell and his Avon counterpart Kevin Pearson are personally leading the discussions and both are said to be keeping open minds over both services’ futures.