1. ITV Report

Fierce debate over plans to merge fire services

A fierce debate is raging over plans to merge fire services in Dorset and Wiltshire. The fire services need to save millions of pounds because grants from the Government are being cut. Both had agreed it was the best way to save money. But now Wiltshire's calling for a re-think after new fire authority bosses were voted in.

Two thirds of firefighters in both Dorset and Wiltshire are only called when they're needed. But even this pay as you go approach isn't enough say the fire services to cope with continuing cuts in grants from the Government. So now the residents of both counties are going to be asked whether they think merging Dorset's and Wiltshire's Fire Services is a good idea, because their chief officers believe it is the best solution.

"Generally my experience is what the public are concerned with is while I get a fire engine when I dial 999 and what will happen to my local fire station. But I think if the evidence is there to say I am trying to protect frontline services and this is the way that we are doing it to protect against future cuts and this is the way that we are doing it and to make sure our response arrangements are at present."

– Darran Gunter, Chief Fire Officer, Dorset

Dorset currently has around £30 million to spend, Wiltshire around £25 million. But both expect that between 2010 and 2019 their grants from the government will have halved, meaning each has to save millions of pounds.

They're turning to each other for a rescue because, as well as being neighbours, they're similar in size and the geography and populations are closely matched. But not enough everyone is enthusiastic. Wiltshire's new fire authority is now asking for more time to think about other options. And the MP for North Wiltshire is fiercely opposed.

"I think we provide better services if we keep it small, relatively local. I said this about the ambulance service, they merged with Gloucester then they merged with Somerset, then they merged with Cornwall, now we have an ambulance service for the whole region. There is no localism in that and the service for local people declines as a result."

– James Gray MP Cons, North Wiltshire