Fire service Safer Together consultation responses will be scrutinised by an independent group outside the fire service.
The independent external company is responsible for compiling a report of the findings and will take into account all the responses received by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) – including thousands of petition signatures opposing proposed cuts to crewing and station closures.
The fire service said the independent report will go before the Fire Authority at a meeting due this autumn.
DSFRS said it was unable to answer how many petitions opposing the changes had been handed in across the two counties, or the total number of signatures collected, because ‘the responses are still being collated’.
The fire service could not supply any information about the areas where petitions had been held, or the organisations handing them in.
DSFRS said until the Safer Together responses were reviewed it could not reveal the total number of completed questionnaires, or if the on-line or paper version had been more popular.
A DSFRS spokesman said: “We recognise that this is a very complex subject. We’ve done our best to present to the public the proposed changes in the simplest possible way, allowing people to decide and comment on the aspects of the consultation they feel are important, and what they understand.
“We’ve also followed best practice from the Consultation Institute.
“We’ll be reviewing the responses and presenting this in our final consultation report which will be published on our website.”
A petition to save Colyton fire station collected 6,000-plus signatures and was presented to the fire service before the consultation closed.
Firefighters from Devon and Somerset presented DSFRS with a petition of more than 30,000 signatures from members of the public, calling on the service to scrap its plans to cut and make changes to fire services in the area.
Before the consultation deadline DSFRS chief fire officer Lee Howell confessed to East Devon MP Hugo Swire, service cash-saving changes will ‘’inevitably affect response times’.
Sir Hugo, who was briefed by Exmouth firefighters before the consultation closed, said: “Claims that station closures are due to a lack of central government funding are untrue, particularly given the national uplift from the latest Spending Review.”
Cuts and changes to East Devon’s fire cover included closing Budleigh Salterton, Colyton and Topsham fire stations, downgrading Exmouth’s 24/7 fire cover, and ‘switching off’ Honiton and Sidmouth’s second fire engines during the daytime.
Town and parish councils from across East Devon opposed the proposed cuts and closures.
Councillors were united in telling DSFRS the consultation document was ‘confusing’.
County councillors for Exmouth, Christine Channon and Richard Scott, told the fire service the Safer Together document was ‘misleading’ and ‘difficult to navigate’.