Devon and Somerset fire chief Lee Howell goes part time

Devon and Somerset Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell
Image caption The fire chief has said the cuts were "balanced" and would not compromise safety

The chief of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has been criticised for his decision to go part time and take up a consultancy role in Wales.

Lee Howell, who recently oversaw £5.5m in service cuts, is joining the Welsh government as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors.

The Fire Brigades' Union said the announcement came at a time when the service was "in turmoil".

Mr Howell said the cuts were "balanced" and would not compromise safety.

He is due to take up the two-day-a-week advisory post later this month.

The FBU has claimed the cuts he has overseen will result in about 150 firefighter posts being lost.

'Danger of fragmentation'

Union spokesman Dave Chappell said: "We've got massive cuts - the biggest ever seen in this service - which are supposed to be implemented somehow.

"There's a real danger of fragmentation at this time and we need a full-time officer, not a part-time one.

Mr Chappell said the service has already lost two senior officers and the senior management board had been cut from 11 to four.

"This could end up turning what is a real crisis into chaos," he added.

In Devon, the cuts will also see full-time fire engines in Plymouth, Torquay and Ilfracombe being reduced to on-call.

Image caption Susie Colley, who has been fighting the cuts, said Mr Howell had let people down

Across the border in Somerset, Taunton fire station will lose half its full-time firefighters. It will keep one full-time crew, with two of its three engines being crewed by retained firefighters.

Susie Colley, from Torquay, who has been fighting the cuts, said Mr Howell had let his officers down and let the public down.

"He was forever telling us the whole thing was transparent and that he would lead his officers, but now it's patently obvious he had no intention of doing that," she said.

"Nobody says he shouldn't change his job, but how can he lead these cuts on a part-time basis when he's whizzing back and forward on the M5."

'Family connections'

Mr Howell, who is currently on leave, was not available for comment about his decision.

But, in a joint statement issued by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, and the Welsh government, he said he was delighted to have been appointed as the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser and Inspector for Wales and with strong family connections in Wales, he looked forward to contributing to its future.

"I am also looking forward to building even stronger relationships between the Fire and Rescue Services in Wales and the Welsh Government as we collectively tackle some extremely challenging issues whilst continuing to provide the high quality public services the people of Wales rightly expect," the statement added.

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