Hundreds back EADT fire service campaign

HUNDREDS of people are backing the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to safeguard the future of county fire services in Suffolk and Essex.Huge numbers of readers have registered their opposition to Government plans to replace county brigades with regional forces.

HUNDREDS of people are backing the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to safeguard the future of county fire services in Suffolk and Essex.

Huge numbers of readers have registered their opposition to Government plans to replace county brigades with regional forces.

They include Edmund Vestey, one of Suffolk's richest men with an estimated wealth of £700 million, and former Suffolk High Sheriff Robert Rous.

Mr Rous, from Dennington, said: "I'm supporting the EADT's campaign because I'm very concerned about back-door regionalisation.


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"If we are going to regionalise then there should be a public debate about the issue – it should not be done by the back door like this."

Leading shipping magnate Mr Vestey, of Little Thurlow, near Haverhill, has also signed a petition to oppose regional brigades.

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Ninety-four per cent of readers who voted in the EADT's special phone poll said they did not want a regional fire brigade. Just 6% of those who voted were in favour.

The EADT launched the No to Regional Fire Service campaign last week in response to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's White Paper on the future of the fire service in Britain.

It outlined a move towards regional management of the fire service that could see brigades in Suffolk and Essex replaced by an East of England service that covered six counties.

Although such regional fire authorities would initially be created in areas with elected regional assemblies, the Government's agenda is clearly to regionalise this life-saving service throughout the country.

One likely change would see control rooms, which are currently based in each county to co-ordinate responses to emergencies, being centralised to a single command base.

The EADT asked readers to sign a petition form which will be sent to Mr Prescott.

Simon Burns, Conservative MP for Chelmsford West, is supporting the EADT's campaign and said it would be "ludicrous" to contemplate a regional fire service.

"The existing fire service does a superb job in different counties of the region – they have an identity and provide swift response times to incidents in their geographical areas," he said.

"To subsume individual fire services into a huge regional one will impact on the quality of the service, create more bureaucracy and cost more. It would just be a waste of money."

David Ruffley, the Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: "I strongly believe that a regional fire service as envisaged by John Prescott will severely compromise the current effectiveness of the Bury St Edmunds station and other Suffolk stations.

"The fire services of the quality provided rely on being locally focussed and I utterly oppose some top heavy remote HQ calling the shots for the whole of the East of England."

Malcolm Alcock, Chief Officer of Suffolk Fire Service, said he was "sceptical" that a regional brigade would provide a better service to the current set-up.

He told the EADT: "It's not being opposed to regionalisation just because it is regionalisation - we are just not convinced an effective argument is being put forward."

EADT editor Terry Hunt said: "Our readers are sending a clear message to the government – they want to keep their fire service local. I would urge everyone who feels strongly about this issue to fill in our petition forms, and we will make sure they reach the decision-makers in Whitehall."

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