North Yorkshire and Humberside Fire Services ponder merger to cope with cuts

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NORTH Yorkshire Fire Service is considering a merger with neighbouring Humberside in a bid to cope with cuts in spending.

Last month The Yorkshire Post revealed South Yorkshire was considering joining forces with West Yorkshire and it has now emerged the region’s other two services are contemplating the same option.

A report to next week’s meeting of North Yorkshire Fire Authority says although the service may be able to achieve required savings in the short-term the longer-term picture remains challenging and a merger could be the most efficient way forward.

The report, written by North Yorkshire’s chief fire officer Nigel Hutchinson says: “Should the Authority wish to proceed with the process for merging with another fire authority, there will be a number of significant issues to be taken into account, not least the identification of a willing partner to merger.

“That said, in the event that a willing partner can be identified, the Outline Business Case suggests that on the basis of experience elsewhere, the merger of this Authority with a similar geographical neighbour could deliver efficiency savings which are likely to be required in four to five years time.

“Of the neighbouring Fire Authorities, Humberside, taking all things into account, would appear to offer the greatest potential for a merger with another Fire Authority.”

The report concludes with a recommendation Humberside is approached with a view to developing a full business case for merger.

The merger plan has sprung out of Government proposals for police and crime commissioners to take over fire services. That idea was rejected by South and West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire has now also chosen to look at merging with another fire service instead.

The report to the authority points out that plans for greater devolution to the north and the creation of so-called ‘northern powerhouses’ place a question mark over the future of North Yorkshire should fire services be included in a new city region authority.

The report also highlights that ‘equalising’ council tax contributions across different local authority areas would be a key challenge if the plan goes ahead.

But it adds: “However, the main consideration in determining the success or otherwise of a merger will be the so called strategic fit between organisations, effectively the similarities in operational and support service functions which should allow for rationalisation and the consequent delivery of efficiency savings.”

North Yorkshire Fire Service declined to comment but a Humberside Fire Service spokesman said: “In light of reduced budgets and a requirement for efficiencies to be made, Humberside Fire Authority has given approval for officers to advance discussions with neighbouring fire services to examine opportunities for potential sharing of services or full mergers.”

It has previously been revealed that the chief officers of South and West Yorkshire Fire Services and the chairmen of both fire authorities have met to discuss potential merger and that government officials have approved consideration of the plan.