END OF REGIONAL FIRE SERVICE CONTROL WELCOMED BY MP
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A campaign lasting several years has been won after the government announced it was abandoning regional fire control centres. The move was warmly welcomed by Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff who has been working alongside local fire and rescue staff and their trade union to oppose the regionalisation of the service.

Peter described the news as “a great Christmas present to the county” and commented,

“The last government wanted to regionalise everything to create new, artificial structures of government – and fire control was one of the services it decided to take from local people and run from a new, expensive, regional centre. There was never any operational logic in the decision which threatened the speedy and efficient fire and rescue service we enjoy in Worcestershire.

“But perhaps the greatest practical worry was the technology. When the plan was drawn up in 2004, the technology was supposed to be cutting-edge. The project took so long that the expensive equipment is now outdated. It was like trying to introduce a service based on the Motorola Brick mobile phone, just as iPhone 4 is on the market.

“So I am not surprised the contractor couldn’t deliver the technology and I welcome unreservedly the opportunity for the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Fire and Rescue Service to keep control of its service local.”

As part of a wider reform of the Fire and Rescue Service, the FiReControl project was announced at the end of 2003 with the aim of improving efficiency by closing the 46 fire service control centres and concentrating their functions into nine regional centres. The scheme has been widely criticised by fire chiefs and trade unions for being costly, over specified and unnecessary.

Local Government minister Bob Neill has announced the abandonment of the Regional Control Centre project that would have seen call receipt, handling, mobilising and command and control functions being transferred to Wolverhampton from their current location in Worcester.

As Mark Yates, Chief Fire Officer, has said in a letter to MPs,

“I view this as positive for our Service as it removes several years of uncertainty for our staff and keeps local knowledge within the Service. The regional set up would also have cost the Authority between £300-500k a year more than we currently spend on our existing control centre. I anticipate that within 12 months we will be able to provide our own up dated and modernised fire control function that will provide everything that the regional centre would have supplied but will cost significantly less.”

In a statement to the House of Commons, the minister said,

“Following extensive discussion with Cassidian [the contractor], we have jointly concluded, with regret, that the requirements of the project cannot be delivered to an acceptable time frame. Therefore the best outcome for the taxpayer and the fire and rescue community is for the contract to be terminated with immediate effect. Cassidian and the Department for Communities and Local Government have reached an acceptable settlement over this although the details will remain commercially confidential.

“The Department will cease funding activities directly associated with the project as quickly as is compatible with organising an orderly closing down of the project. We recognise that fire and rescue authorities will now wish to review their control arrangements in the light of today's decision. This Government do not intend to impose any solution for the future of control room services.

“We will, however, start to consult the fire and rescue sector soon on how best the Government can support them, if at all, in developing their alternative plans based on the principles of localism, ensuring public safety, building up national resilience and delivering value for taxpayers' money. These continue to be our overriding priorities.”

ENDS


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