Regional fire control room plan attacked

By Danielle NuttallCONTROVERSIAL plans to create a regional fire control room in East Anglia are “very high risk” and could lead to total failure, it has been claimed.

By Danielle Nuttall

CONTROVERSIAL plans to create a regional fire control room in East Anglia are “very high risk” and could lead to total failure, it has been claimed.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it had obtained details of a confidential report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which stated proposals to open nine regional centres would cost £754.5million.

It claimed the Firecontrol Project report suggested there would be savings of £42.3m over 10 years, but there may be a loss of £107m during the same period, costing fire authorities £200,000 a year more.

The risk of delay or total failure of the project had been assessed as very high in the report and there was a high risk of a hike in council tax and fire service cuts if the project costs overran, the union added.

Andy Gilchrist, FBU general secretary, said: “This dangerous plan will axe all our excellent command and control centres and be a financial burden on the fire service and council tax payers for years to come. It's expensive, it's risky, it won't save a single life and could end in total failure.

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“Ministers are hiding the true costs from fire authorities and have made public claims which cannot possibly be justified. Slashing staffing levels from the 1,500 already over-worked personnel to 600 is dangerous folly, which is why they want to keep the numbers secret.

“Our current ability to respond very quickly to fires, traffic accidents, flooding, environmental, chemical, nuclear and radiological incidents will be badly damaged.

“If such a key part of the fire service collapses into the total failure they say may very well happen, then lives will be lost.”

The union claimed the initial costs of setting up the project would be more than £300m in the early years, to which fire authorities would have to contribute.

It added all the savings would be made by reducing the workforce from 1,500 to 600, leaving 40 people to staff each of the new control rooms.

But a statement issued by fire and rescue service minister Nick Raynsford said the Firecontrol programme would provide a more effective and efficient service that would protect the public better and save more lives.

“The new regional control centres are being designed to overcome shortcomings in the current system,” he added.

“Existing control rooms do a good job, but they are not designed to deal, in a co-ordinated fashion, with major regional or national incidents.

“They operate with a wide range of procedures, technologies and systems - many of which have suffered from an historic lack of investment. Back-up arrangements vary.”

Mr Raynsford continued: “In saying that the project is very high risk the FBU have quoted material from the draft outline business case totally out of context.

“There are risks with all technology projects, but to ensure the success of the Firecontrol project we are using the best available technology based on the most advanced existing fire controls. We will phase the roll-out carefully to ensure effective delivery of the programme.”

Mr Raynsford said the average cost of responding to an incident at present was £76 per authority, but that would reduce to £52 under the new scheme.

“The Government would not support any proposals that could lead to a worse fire and rescue service,” he pledged.

“Firecontrol will do the opposite and provide a better and more efficient service. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible.”

The FBU said staff cuts for the project were so severe that the system would routinely transfer calls away from control centres that have reached saturation point to a control centre that could take the call.

It also claimed many of the costs of the project had been ignored, such as patching up the current system until the new centres arrive and the costs to the police and ambulance service of linking up with new fire service control centres.

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