Fresh firefighters strike warning

By Rebecca SheppardTHE firefighters' union in East Anglia warned it could not rule out strike action if job losses resulted from the creation of a regional control centre.

By Rebecca Sheppard

THE firefighters' union in East Anglia warned it could not rule out strike action if job losses resulted from the creation of a regional control centre.

The Government has proposed abolishing the six fire and rescue control rooms in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and creating one centre instead.

But East Anglian officials of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have criticised the plan, warning it would lead to longer response times, less value for money and a greater risk to people's lives.

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They warned the union could take action if the firefighters' and public's opposition to a regional control centre was not listened to.

The union officials voiced their concerns as the FBU released a hard-hitting report, Out Of Control, which condemned as “crazy” the plan to close 49 control rooms in England and Wales and move them to nine regional centres.

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Hundreds of East Anglian Daily Times readers have also signed a petition stating their objection to the Government's proposal.

Steve Brinkley, Suffolk secretary of the FBU, said: “At the moment we have got an annual conference policy and national policy on redundancies that if any FBU member is made redundant, then industrial action can be taken.

“Regional centres are not the proven way for a more effective or cost-effective service. The amount of money that is spent on a control room in Suffolk is negligible. It is a mere fraction of 1% of anybody's council tax.

“To suggest that this is going to save money is a nonsense. Really regionalisation will lead to less of a service and could endanger people in their homes.”

Graham Noakes, FBU secretary for East Anglia, added: “This is in the early stages and we want to make the public aware and win the argument and stop it before it starts.

“The programme timetable is to come live in 2007 to 2008, so it's a two to three-year timetable. Now obviously we need to campaign hard very, very soon, as once they start building, it is very difficult to turn the clock back.”

The FBU has already warned the computer system failure that grounded aircraft in the UK last week highlighted the dangers of having a single control room and, if replicated in the fire service, could lead to avoidable deaths.

Mr Noakes also raised his concerns about the proposed regional centre's accountability.

“We don't know who the employers will be. Who is going to fund it and how are the public going to get accountability if they are not happy with the service they receive?” he said.

“In the long term the local authorities will have to pay money back to the government. This is about building a brand new control room with the latest technology whereas many of the control rooms in the region have been upgraded. It is a waste of public money.”

Peter Monk, the Suffolk county councillor responsible for public protection and vice-chairman of the Fire and Rescue Service Regional Management Board, said it would take the FBU's views into consideration.

“We are currently looking at the issues and challenges which the shift to a regional fire and rescue service control room presents us with,” he added.

“We have begun the process of looking at this, but there is a long way to go and many key decisions yet to be taken along the way.

“But it would be wrong to completely disregard the potential improvements that a regional control room would bring, such as new and better technology. All of these factors will be weighed up in the coming months.”

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