Plan to merge fire authorities wins backing from county council

COUNTY civic chiefs have backed proposals for a cross-Solent fire authority.

As part of its response to plans to bring together the already combined authority of Hampshire, Southampton, and Portsmouth with the new addition of the the Isle of Wight, Hampshire County Council says the new force would lead to ‘clearer accountability’.

It adds the new force could lead to an ‘enhanced cutting-edge delivery of services’ which would benefit residents and businesses across the region.

It comes as part of the consultation into the proposals, which ends on October 26.

If the new authority is approved, fire bosses say it would allow the mainland services to better support the IoW and also allow them to modernise services on the island with £3m upgrades.

The 11 stations will be brought in line with mainland standards. Improvements will involve modernising the bases, which may include new tech.

The response from the council, which is set to be signed off next week, adds: ‘The council is of the view that a new combined fire authority is the next logical step to relieve some of the pressure on the fire and rescue authorities, while maintaining and improving services.

“This is, in part, due to the success over the past three years of the strategic partnership between Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the Isle of Wight Council which has delivered significant financial and operational benefits. The county council is also of the view that the proposal would help reinforce the functional area of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and could encourage further harmonisation across the same geography.”

However, additional funding would need to be found if the plans are green-lit.

Adding the island to the combined authority would mean an extra £460,000 a year to “properly maintain” the service.

Around £200,000 of this will be funded by a Band D tax increase of £3.74 per year, which will only be billed to islanders. It will do this by bringing its precept charge in line with Hampshire – £65.74.

Other cash, fire bosses say, will be gained from combining assets, which will reduce unnecessary spending.

Cllr Chris Carter, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority (HFRA) chairman, said: “This presents an opportunity to create a new arrangement, with potential to deliver significant operational benefits, greater resilience for both services and also help keep our communities even safer.

“The strategic partnership agreed between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in 2015 has already brought many benefits to both services, as well as delivering better value for taxpayers. This proposal has the potential to bring us even closer together.”

“This consultation will give our community the opportunity to give us their views on this important matter.”

Following the consultation, views will go to HFRA and Isle of Wight Council for consideration on whether or not to submit an application to Government to form a new combined authority.

The final decision will rest with the Home Secretary.

Hampshire’s fire authority gave the green light to proceed with the consultation on June 13.

Cllr Tig Outlaw, Isle of Wight Cabinet member for public protection, said: “This is all about achieving what is best for our Island community, ensuring the future resilience of the service and the safety of our residents.

To take part in the consultation, visit www.hantsfire.gov.uk/consultation or email: hfrsconsultation@hantsfire.gov.uk.

Alternatively, people can call 023 8062 6815.

A final decision on the plans is expected in January 2019.