Fire service faces backlash over consultation meetings
Anger is growing over proposed cuts to emergency fire cover and controversial privatisation plans for search and rescue helicopters amid claims the authorities are trying to silence opposition.
Budget reductions by Devon and Somerset Fire Authority are set to scale down three of Plymouth's seven fire crews to "on-call", doing the same with one crew in Taunton, one in Torquay and another in Ilfracombe.
In a separate move, RMB Chivenor is to lose its Sea King helicopters, along with RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, as part of £1.6 billion deal to replace the cover with new Sikorsky aircraft based in Newquay and St Athan in South Wales.
The fire service has faced a furious public backlash over its consultation.
Fire chiefs have been forced to hold fresh meetings at bigger venues in Ilfracombe and Torquay after complaints that promotional posters had not contained address details or been properly organised.
Ilfracombe town councillor Mike Edmunds said forcing the public to register for an event before being told where the meeting was to be held was "absolutely disgusting".
Fire Brigades Union chairman in the South West Bob Walker said he was shocked and embarrassed by the behaviour of the fire service, which said it was "managing numbers".
Mr Walker added: "It's obvious they don't want people to attend this meeting but I'm amazed they would stoop this low.
"The point of this consultation is to hear what people have to say but they just aren't interested, it completely defeats the point.
"I'm shocked by the fire service's behaviour, it's getting ridiculous."
The fire service admitted the poster did not list venues but denied its intention was to prevent people attending.
A spokesman added: "By asking people to register if they are attending it helps us to know how many staff we need to support the discussions.
"There is also some leeway for people to turn up at the door on the night but we will be restricted to the size and layout of the venue."
It has now changed the venue to Ilfracombe Junior School, next Thursday, from 7pm until 9pm.
North Devon Council has thrown its weight behind the campaign to stop Ilfracombe fire station moving from a manned to a retained service, which has attracted 500 signatures.
Councillors also reacted angrily to the decision to take the helicopter search and rescue service away.
They hope to persuade the new service providers that at least one helicopter could be based at Chivenor, thereby retaining the local knowledge, an idea also discussed by Devon County Council on Wednesday.
Council leader John Hart said: "It is something I feel very strongly about and wants scrutinising in detail."
The issue should be considered by the new council after the election, he added.
North Devon MP Sir Nick Harvey has questioned the Government about the deal announced two weeks ago to allow Texas-based firm Bristow Helicopters to take over the operation of the search-and-rescue service in Britain.