Anger at 'secret' 999 centre plans

THE Government faced a barrage of fierce criticism last night for refusing to reveal the location of East Anglia's new regional fire control room.Peter Monk, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for public protection, said the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had treated the authority "like kids" by not trusting it to be told the site of the new control room – due to open in 2007.

THE Government faced a barrage of fierce criticism last night for refusing to reveal the location of East Anglia's new regional fire control room.

Peter Monk, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for public protection, said the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had treated the authority "like kids" by not trusting it to be told the site of the new control room – due to open in 2007.

He was speaking at a media briefing announcing Suffolk Fire Service's Integrated Risk Management Plan – a blueprint for the county's fire cover in the future. It came on the same day Fire Service Minister Nick Raynsford made an official visit to the county council's headquarters in Ipswich.

Mr Monk said: "I have heard anecdotally that people do know where it's going to be – but not us.


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"I just wish the ODPM's office would actually tell us for the benefit of our staff. They have had this hanging over them for so long.

"Effectively, nobody can be trusted to know where this is going to be and that's the big drawback."

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He added: "The reality is we were due to be told last year and we are all disappointed we do not know. We have been treated like kids."

Under a plan being imposed by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, each of the nine European-style regions of England will have to set up its own control centre by 2007.

In the East of England, the three county brigades of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Hertfordshire will join with fire authorities covering Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Bedfordshire, Luton and Essex, Southend and Thurrock to provide one centralised emergency response centre. As a result, there will be job losses at the existing control rooms in region.

Lionel Lee, chairman of the Essex Fire Authority, said he was "absolutely furious" about the decision to withhold the information.

"I'm so annoyed. Why all the secrecy? What have they got to hide? They've just left our people hanging by a thread again – there's bound to be an effect on morale," he added.

"We told all our staff that as soon as we knew, we'd tell them and be open about it."

A spokesman for the ODPM said last night: "No-one has been told yet as it (regional control room) is still commercially restricted at the moment because of the contractual obligations. A full, proper announcement will be made in due course and all the key stakeholders will be told.

"We're not in a position to announce that yet. It's not just Suffolk not being told. It's everyone not being told. We are not in a position to say what's going to happen.

"I think our schedule has always been to announce the locations this year and we are hoping to do that in the next couple of months. All the people who need to be told will be told.

"We are following widely agreed and tested procurement rules. When you're dealing with significant amounts of public money we have to follow strict procedures.

"We are sorry if people feel they are being kept out of the loop. That's certainly not our intention."

But after the meeting, Mr Monk said he felt very strongly about the lack of knowledge.

"It's outrageous. Because of the delays, the staff are being messed about and secondly we have to make decisions and be involved in things but they are not trusting us to know.

"They are going to extreme lengths of silliness here. Ironically we have a minister coming here and talking about visions for the next few years."

Suffolk's Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said he had personally written to every member of the control room giving his assurances that as soon as the service was able to release the location of the new control centre, he would do that.

He added that staff also had the opportunity of receiving a text message to inform them of the location as soon as it was officially announced.

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