Gummer's anger at regional fire plans

ONE of East Anglia's longest serving MPs has condemned plans to create a regional fire service control.Suffolk Coastal Conservative John Gummer, a former Environment Secretary, has tabled 12 questions to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, asking him to justify his reasons to abolish county response centres in Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

By Graham Dines

ONE of East Anglia's longest serving MPs has condemned plans to create a regional fire service control.

Suffolk Coastal Conservative John Gummer, a former Environment Secretary, has tabled 12 questions to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, asking him to justify his reasons to abolish county response centres in Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

The Fire Brigades Union in East Anglia also denounced the plans, claiming they will lead to slower response times and an increased risk to the public.


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"People in Suffolk will feel significantly less safe if they are run by some giant regional authority," said Mr Gummer.

He gave this warning to Suffolk County Council: "I believe this is the moment that county councillors, irrespective of their political connections with the Government, should stand up for the people of Suffolk and loudly object to the plans. If they don't, the electorate of the county will not forgive them.

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"East Anglia is already suffering from a lack of resources because they have been diverted away to urban areas. It doesn't take much working out to predict that under a regional structure, urban areas in the East of England will receive a disproportionate amount of the funding cake."

He added: "There are some very isolated communities in rural counties. Without local knowledge, there could be desperate problems. I can imagine all sorts of difficulties resulting from calls from any of the South Elmham saints, or Linstead Parva, or Iken, or Monewden."

Mr Gummer predicted that if the plans eventually introduce one regional fire brigade, the next step would be the creation of a single regional police force.

Graham Noakes, regional treasurer of the Fire Brigades Union, feared that the six independent fire and emergency control rooms would eventually be merged despite 'best value' reviews in 2001 recommended they should be kept.

"What's changed now? The fire service has taken on many new roles such as urban search and rescue, mass decontamination, and public safety as well as answering more fire and emergency calls than ever before.

"The recommendations are based purely on an economic argument and have nothing to do with the quality and reliability of locally accountable public services."

Sharon Peverett, the FBU's regional control representative, said: "The proposals will lead to a decline in the speed and quality of an emergency response, with less staff answering more calls. The loss of vital local knowledge undoubtedly will lead to slower response times for fire engines, thus increasing the risk to the public."

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