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Fire service say cuts offer 'balanced set of proposals'

Devon & Somerset's Fire HQ at Clyst St George

A decision on controversial cost-cutting changes to Devon and Somerset's fire service is to be taken next week.

A series of recommendations were published last night and the date for a new meeting set for Friday January 10  - after the last meeting was delayed due to the high number of responses to be considered.

The proposals, going to the fire authority,  include removing the third fire engines from Bridgwater, Taunton, Yeovil, Torquay along with second fire engine from Martock and Totnes.

The Porlock Fire Station, which was threatened with closure, is not included in the list going to next week's vote and there's no direct mention of staffing changes at Frome but the service says it will 'introduce variable fire engine availability dependent on risk'.

There won't be any major changes at Paignton, following a campaign to keep the site in full-time operations.

The plans could see the closure of Budleigh Salterton fire station and relocating of Topsham's fire station to the Force HQ at Clyst St George.

During last year's consultation the service held 27 drop-in sessions which were attended by nearly 2,000 people. 

In total 3,818 responses were received: 3,232 completed questionnaires, 205 written submissions and 381 email responses. In addition, five petitions were submitted with a total of 43,644 signatures.

Lee Howell, Chief Fire Officer, said: "Last summer we consulted on a number of options for change. We have also recently received Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service report which highlighted areas where we need to improve. 

"After reflecting on staff suggestions, public feedback and considering how we need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service, we have recommended a balanced set of proposals for consideration by the fire authority.

"We are presenting a significant investment in our ‘on call’ staff which will directly improve the availability of our fire engines. 

"At the same time, we are suggesting closure of one fire station (Budleigh Salterton), relocation of another (Topsham) as well as removal of a number of low activity fire engines. 

"Importantly, we are confident that we can secure alternative ways of working with our whole time staff which will allow us to undertake significantly more prevention and protection activity which will also make communities safer."

Torbay MP Kevin Foster said: "The proposal for Paignton was wrong from the start and I am relieved this is not being pushed ahead with. 

"Since it was announced thousands of residents got behind the campaign to keep Paignton Fire Station 'full time' overnight and made their views known. 

"I am pleased they have been listened to, although I am disappointed the responses were not enough for the service to recommend keeping the third engine at Torquay.

"In December 2019 the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement for 2020/21 showed grant funding to Devon and Somerset Fire Service will increase by 1.7% (in line with inflation) and the Home Office confirmed the Government will partially fund pension cost pressures. 

"The fire service had previously predicted it would face a reduction in grant funding of 5% and a pension cost pressure of £3.9m."

The agenda for the meeting on January 10 can be found here

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