The combined Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service came into being on 1 April 2016, and serves the local authority areas of Bournemouth, Dorset, Poole, Swindon and Wiltshire.
We embarked on the road to combination in December 2013, when the former Fire Authorities of Dorset and Wiltshire & Swindon agreed to develop a business case for a new Service.
Following an extensive public consultation, and a thorough examination of all the benefits and potential risks, both Authorities agreed in November 2014 that combination should be pursued.
The Combination Order was therefore submitted to the Government and formal approval was received in the Spring of 2015. From 1 April 2015 until combination day, the new Fire and Rescue Authority met in Shadow form, overseeing the preparations for the new Service and setting out a clear direction of travel for teams and departments.
Why did we combine?
By achieving one Senior Leadership Team, bringing together departments, consolidating assets and identifying new ways of working, we anticipate annual savings of around £6 million by 2017/18.
As two small Fire and Rescue Services, we were vulnerable to outside pressures, and it was extremely difficult to make savings without impacting on frontline delivery. As one larger organisation, we have a stronger voice at a political level, and we will be an even more effective partner for our local authorities and other emergency services.
The Government wanted FRSs to be innovative in finding ways of managing the challenges of austerity, and a multi-million pound Transformation Fund was made available to encourage this.
Dorset and Wiltshire made a successful bid to this fund and received a grant of £5.54million, to enable the following:
- The development of a new Safety Centre in Wiltshire/Swindon, to complement the award-winning education facilities that already exist in Weymouth and Bournemouth under the auspices of the SafeWise charity;
- The development of a new centrally-located headquarters, which has now been established within the Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre in Salisbury. This has been achieved in partnership with Wiltshire Council;
- The harmonisation of our ICT infrastructure to address the challenges of being a larger and predominantly rural Fire and Rescue Service;
- A programme of specialist support to ensure a well-managed transition from two Services into one.
We still face a number of challenges – the Government has made it clear that further funding cuts will be required across the public sector so we, and our partners, will need to continue finding new ways of delivering services in an effective and efficient way.
As we settle into our new Service, our communities shouldn’t see a lot of difference. We have the same number of fire stations, with the same number of fire appliances – all that’s changed is the name and badge on the vehicles and the signage on our buildings.
We are continuing to deliver free Safe and Well visits to keep people are fire safe in their homes, and we are working with partners in health to see how we can use our well-trusted brand to help the most vulnerable.
Our fire safety inspectors continue to work with businesses to ensure the right standards are in place to keep commercial premises legally compliant and safe.
In short, everything that you expect us to do, we are still delivering – if you ring 999 in an emergency and ask for the fire service, we will respond. What’s changing is how we work ‘behind the scenes’ and how we work with others to support our communities.
We are ‘passionate about changing and saving lives’ – and we are excited by the possibilities that are now open to us as a larger Fire and Rescue Service.