Plans for Devon and Somerset's fire service to merge with Cornwall's are rejected
A merger creating one giant fire service covering most of the South West has been decisively kicked out after Cornwall councillors unanimously rejected ceding control of their county's fire service.
The line in the sand was drawn in the wake of a lengthy meeting which examined whether Cornwall fire service should explore combining with Devon and Somerset.
Earlier this year Avon Fire and Rescue Authority considered and also rejected a merger with the Exeter-based service.
Geoff Brown, chairman of Cornwall Council's Homes and Communities Portfolio Advisory Committee, said members were convinced.
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"Cornwall's fire service stays in Cornwall," he said.
"It was a unanimous vote. We have got no appetite whatsoever to look at a merger.
"The committee told the officer to spend no more time exploring the possibilities."
The cost-cutting bid had been put on the agenda amid fears of scything cuts to the county's service.
A recommendation had been made that a merger with the Devon and Somerset service should be explored if negotiations had demanded more than a £2.25 million reduction in the budget.
It said frontline services would have been protected by widescale cuts to senior management ranks.
But Mr Brown said the feeling was there was too much to be lost.
"The ceiling for impact on front line services was £2.25 million.
"If however we reach that point we [decided that we] need to look at other solutions rather than amalgamation.
"Nobody wants this. Our fire and rescue service is lean and efficient.
"They also do a huge amount of community prevention work and if we merged that wouldn't be transferred over and that wasn't the only problem with the merger."
Mr Brown added that members decided the earliest this could be reconsidered was 2018 and overall he felt it was the right decision: "I'm really pleased," he said.
The Fire Brigades Union had urged Cornwall Council not to press ahead with discussions saying at stake was more than money
"Bigger is not always better, and firefighters believe a merger would threaten public safety in Cornwall," said South West FBU secretary, Phil Jordan.
"A merger would mean Cornwall would lose control of its fire and rescue service and decisions about its operation would be handed to a Fire Authority covering three counties."
Proposals to create a regional fire service have always been controversial.
In 2010, the Government's plans to regionalise fire control centres were scrapped after an estimated £500 million loss.
The plans would have seen local emergency fire control rooms close and replaced with one regional call centres.
In terms of merging brigades, earlier this year Avon Fire and Rescue Authority considered and rejected combining with Devon and Somerset.
A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue said it was known that Cornwall had been considering exploring a merger, but "no discussions with regard to these options have taken place".
The scale of the two fire services would certainly have made Cornwall the junior partner: on the western side of the Tamar, the fire and rescue budget is just over £22 million, which pays for two 24-hour fire stations, five daytime staffed ones and 24 retained stations. In total there are over 700 members of staff, including 202 full time and 412 part time firefighters.
But it is dwarfed by the Devon and Somerset operation, whose budget is just shy of £77 million, paying for 85 fire stations and approximately 2,300 staff, of which 800 are wholetime.