A great success for Colyton and the other communities – the Fire Service backtracks on almost all the fire station closures

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The report for next Friday’s Fire Authority meeting is here (main recommendations on page 1). The paragraph referring to Colyton is as follows:

9.6.  Other Stations: Appledore, Ashburton, Colyton, Kingston, Porlock and Woolacombe would remain open under this proposal but will be subject to periodic review. The payment for availability for ‘On-call’ staff that has been agreed in principle with trade unions will improve availability of ‘On-call’ fire appliances. It is also agreed (with one trade union and discussions ongoing with another) that ‘aggregate crewing’, where firefighters can be sent to incidents with fewer than four firefighters, be adopted. The decision to defer the closures of these fire stations will be dependent on stations improving their availability, for example by adopting the aggregate crewing model.

The Opinion Research Services analysis of the consultation shows strong support for Colyton (and quotes my own submission at length). Its conclusions are here:

Way forward?

5.52  For the reasons explained, the consultation outcomes show a stark 95-to-5 ratio of opponents to supporters, not only in relation to the closure of eight fires stations but for all six options. While consultations are not referenda, these findings are very striking and unusually critical.

5.53  One difficulty is that there was little in the consultation to provide a more balanced picture of general public opinion: with the benefit of hindsight, deliberative consultation and scrutiny through representative forums or focus groups and/or a representative residents’ survey could have provided valuable information about public perceptions of the proposals when fully explained.

5.54  The Fire Authority and DSFRS are faced with difficult decisions following this consultation’s outcomes. There are reasons to implement the proposals; yet the Authority should assess its reputation risk and the of possibility of legal challenges, given the outcomes. Overall, the Fire Authority should consider how the methodological issues we have highlighted have magnified opposition to the proposals while also considering how its proposals could be amended to make them more acceptable.

5.55  There is no single ‘right’ approach, but on balance ORS recommends that it would be wise to prioritise the proposed changes and then to subject them to scrutiny in sequence through more local and focused deliberative and/or representative consultations in the affected areas.

Main recommendations

5.56  Therefore, for the reasons given above, we recommend that DSFRS and the Fire Authority should:

Consider the consultation outcomes in depth while noting how some features of the consultation exercise have magnified opposition;

Rethink, prioritise, and re-present its key proposals in a more graduated way;

For each proposal, target further consultation more locally in the affected areas using several shorter and more location-specific consultation documents;

Continue not to use public meetings as key parts of the consultation, but to be prepared to attend ones organised by other bodies, albeit only in a ‘listening mode’;

Continue to use an open questionnaire, but also seek ways of eliciting general public opinion – to compare one with the other;

Recognise the advantages of using representative and independently facilitated deliberative forums, workshops and focus groups as the best way of giving controversial proposals a ‘fair hearing’ and comparing people’s ‘before-and-after’ opinions; and

Consider whether it would be appropriate to conduct a representative survey based on proper sampling.


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