Fire authority merger backed by council

Fire authority merger backed by council

PLANS TO merge Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth’s fire authority with the Isle of Wight have been backed by Hampshire County Council.

Portsmouth.co.uk reported on the proposals for a ‘cross-Solent fire authority’, which would bring together the ‘already combined’ authority consisting of Hampshire, Southampton and Portsmouth with the Isle of Wight. In response to this, Hampshire County Council has stated that the new authority would lead to ‘clearer accountability’, and could lead to an ‘enhanced cutting-edge delivery of services’ that benefit residents and businesses regionwide.

A consultation on the proposals ends on 26 October, and should the new authority be approved, mainland services would reportedly be able to ‘allow the mainland services to better support’ those on the Isle of Wight, additionally allowing the island’s services to be modernised with upgrades worth £3m. This would entail 11 stations on the island being ‘brought in line with mainland standards’, alongside receiving new technology.

Additional funding would however need to be found should the plans be greenlit, with the addition of the island to the combined authority costing an extra £460,000 to ‘properly maintain’. Of this, £200,000 would be funded by a tax increase for one band of £3.74 a year, only payable by islanders, and undertaken by bringing a charge into line with Hampshire. Other funding would come from ‘combining assets’ to ‘reduce unnecessary spending’.

The council response added: ‘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 [HFRA] 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.’

Chris Carter, chairman of HFRA, 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.’

After the consultation, HFRA and Isle of Wight Council will consider ‘whether or not’ to submit an application to the government, with the Home Secretary to make the final decision. Tig Outlaw, Isle of Wight cabinet member for public protection, added: ‘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.’