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Cuts proposed to Shropshire's fire authority

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Shropshire's fire authority could be cut from 17 to just six members, under plans to save up to £31,000-a-year in allowances.

But a report before the brigade’s oversight committee next week warns that slimming down too dramatically could cause longer meetings or cancellations, as a smaller number of absentees would derail a sitting.

Assistant chief fire officer David Myers also warns against having an even number of members, as this might cause tied votes and “unpopular” casting votes from the chair.

Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority currently includes 11 members of Shropshire Council and six from Telford and Wrekin. The plans they will consider next week all keep this rough 2:1 ratio, reflecting the boroughs’ populations.

Officer Myers said: “The review is to consider whether the Fire Authority can deliver the needs of the community in a more efficient and economical way while maintaining its current high levels of effectiveness.”

He adds that fire authorities are allowed to have up to 25 members but Shropshire and Wrekin’s is unusually large compared to the population of its area of 493,277.

Other 17-member authorities include Leicestershire, with over 1,000,000, and Cambridgeshire, with just under 850,000.

Balance

“This would indicate that there is some room for considering a smaller number of members,” Officer Myers said.

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His report suggests slimming down to 15, 13, 11, nine or six members.

Officer Myers added: “The following risks increase as the total numbers decrease:

“It becomes more difficult to achieve politically balanced decisions and be representative; The likelihood of not being quorate is higher, as there is a reliance on fewer members to attend; The depth and breadth of skills of members would be reduced.

“Even numbers for committees and fire authorities are not recommended as the chair may need to use his or her casting vote. This is not popular.”

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The basic annual members’ allowance is £2,771 per year, but they can claim extra for travel and accommodation, such as when attending conferences.

Officer Myers said a reduction to 15 members would save £5,700 annually while six members would save nearly £31,500.

His report also includes proposals to reform the committee structure, including abolishing some or all of them, but he warns this “would result in all business going to the full Fire Authority, potentially lengthening the meetings”.

Other options include reducing the number of committees or making them more powerful so their decisions don’t need rubber-stamping by the full group.

The Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority will discuss the plans and advise its legal team which options to explore further when it meets at the brigade’s Shrewsbury headquarters on Wednesday, February 13.

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