A feasibility study looking at how FRS services in Northumberland and Cumbria could be shared has been given the green light by councillors in both counties. The study will look into whether the proposal would deliver efficiencies, improve services, and enhance resilience across both counties. According to a Cumbria statement, the feasibility study will take in all possibilities, ranging from collaboration between senior management to a full merger. The shared working concept is being explored following the retirement of the Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland in November of last year.

According to Cumbria, both services are a fit in that they share similar issues in the view of the Audit Commission. In the last Direction of Travel Assessment, they were both classed as 'improving well', while in terms of recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment, they were both regarded as 'Fair'. Both services also share similar risk profiles with large, sparsely populated rural areas coupled with smaller urban centres. Both also have some small but significant deprived areas.

Executive member for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service Alan Thompson said: "We are very proud of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service's reputation and we are determined to maintain the standards that our staff have set. We will only proceed if there are clear benefits in bringing the two services together."

Cumbria County Councillor Gary Strong, Cabinet member for Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, said: "This is just the first step and once we have the results of the feasibility study we will have a much clearer idea of the efficiencies that could be delivered across the two services. The study will look into everything, up to and including a full merger, and although this is potentially a big change to the way senior management will work in both fire authorities, we have to remember that our driving aim is to protect frontline services and improve delivery."

The study is expected to be considered by both Cabinets in March or April.


Posted January 11 2001