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Suffolk: Union tells of services being sent to wrong village from merged control

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 March 2014

The joint fire control centre in Cambridgeshire.

The joint fire control centre in Cambridgeshire.

A fire crew called to an accident at Harleston in Norfolk was sent to the village of the same name in Suffolk.

And a fire controller in Cambridgeshire once told a caller reporting an incident on the Orwell Bridge: “There is no village called Orwell in Suffolk!

Some MPs have said the “success” of the merger of the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire control rooms in 2011 showed a police link-up could be successful, but union leader Andy Vingoe said the merger had been “a disaster.”

Meanwhile a Suffolk MP insisted the merger must not turn into a Beeching-style axe of police services. Dr Beeching produced the report in the 1960s that led to savage cuts in the rail network.

Mr Vingoe, chair of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said different operating systems between the two services meant Suffolk had had to adopt Cambridgeshire practices in order for the control centre to be able to operate.

“There was one occasion when a fire appliance was called to a road accident at Harleston in Norfolk and was sent to Harleston near Stowmarket.

“On another occasion an off-duty fire fighter rang in an incident on the Orwell Bridge. He was told there is no village called Orwell in Suffolk!”

Fortunately there had not been any serious consequences as a result of problems following the merger.

But he added: “It has been a disaster. Everything that we said could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Mr Vingoe said things were starting to improve, and staff were getting to know more about Suffolk.

A spokesman for Suffolk Fire and Rescue service, said: “We monitor our control arrangements on a continuous basis and performance across the service is consistently high. Just like our old Suffolk based control.

“The few incidents reported by the Fire Brigades Union are historical in nature and did not result in any deterioration in service.”

Meanwhile Waveney MP Peter Aldous insisted that any decision had to be made by police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore and chief constable Douglas Paxton.

“We have to have a local decision, not one from Whitehall like the Beeching cuts!” he said.

Mr Aldous said any decision had to reflect the needs of policing in the county: “I would need to be sure it was right for the people of Suffolk and for the staff concerned before I could give it my full support.”

It was important that it didn’t appear that all services were heading in the same direction, away from Suffolk – the fire control room has already moved to Cambridgeshire and the ambulance control to Hellesdon near Norwich.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer also felt it was important that the final decision rested with Mr Passmore.

He said: “It is certainly important that the police are as efficient as possible to ensure that as many resources as possible go to the front line.

“However it is also very important that control rooms reflect local needs – and there is a balance to be struck when the decision is made.”

It was the kind of decision that PCCs like Mr Passmore were elected to take: “This kind of issue is just why the government brought in PCCs, to enable important decisions like this to be taken at a local level.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey said she did not have any objection in principal to the merger – if it could be proved that the service to callers would not be undermined.

She said: “The merger of the fire control rooms seems to have gone well, I’m not aware of any issues since the control room moved to Cambridgeshire.

“And I think the ambulance control room in Norwich is working all right now. Technology has improved considerably.”

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said it was important that “blue light” services become more efficient, and felt a wider merger could be considered.

“I called in the House of Commons for one control room. I said all the blue light services should look at a complete control room.”

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