The Politics Show North West
Senior police back the national proposals
First it was the Fire Service, then the Police - now it seems that Ambulance services across the North West are next in line for merger.
On the Politics Show we ask why are the North West's 999 services all being reorganised?
Who will pay for it, who will be in control and what does it mean to your local fire, police and ambulance services?
In the near future, if you pick up the phone and dial 999, you could get through to a regional ambulance service, a regional fire control room, even a regional police force.
The most pressing political battle is looming over plans to merge police forces.
The North West's Police Authorities have got two more weeks to decide who they want to merge with.
This could mean establishing one police force to cover Kendal to Ellesmere Port, and another covering Crewe to Oldham.
The Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron (Lib Dem) this week handed in a petition to Downing Street asking the Prime Minister to save Cumbria Police.
Tim Farron says he cannot believe a Chief Constable of a new merged force would be able to resist the temptation to draw officers away from quieter rural areas to cover higher crime urban areas.
Tim said: "I am extremely concerned that any merger will mean the loss of police resources in Cumbria.
"Cumbria Police provides a vital service to local residents very well - it is the only force which has scored an 'excellent' in citizen-focused policing.
"We need to ensure that our police force can continue to serve the community well - this merger offers no guarantees of that."
However, the Home Office insists that smaller forces - like Cumbria, Derbyshire and Cheshire - cannot cope with major incidents and cross-border crime effectively.
Tom Levitt, the Labour MP for High Peak, can see other advantages of merging Derbyshire Police with one or more of its East Midlands neighbours.
"As things are now, High Peak can lose out if there's a major crime in another part of Derbyshire.
"Officers are then taken from quieter areas to help with the investigation.
"Under an East Midlands or merged Nottingham/Derbyshire force, there would be a wider pool to draw on for these big investigations, and High Peak would suffer less."
The Association of Police Authorities has urged its members to ignore the December 2005 deadline, and insist on more time to consult local communities and obtain guarantees that they will not have to bear the cost of merger.
Meanwhile, moves are already underway to create regional fire control rooms.
In the North West, all calls from Crewe to Carlisle would be handled by a centre in Warrington.
Under new government proposals, 46 fire control rooms across England are to be replaced with nine regional centres at a cost of £1bn.
Calls from the High Peak area of Derbyshire would be handled 60 miles away at a call centre in Castle Donnington.
Fire Unions say they fear the plans could cost lives, saying it will be impossible to guarantee that people handling the calls will have the same local knowledge as under the old system.
But Fire chiefs and government ministers maintain that new technology will make regional control more effective, and that local knowledge will still exist in local fire stations.
Fire Unions say they fear the plans could cost lives, saying it will be impossible to guarantee local knowledge.
The Department of Health government plans to save hundreds of millions of pounds by combining Ambulance Trusts in the North West.
Health unions are not keen, and some local MPs have come out against the proposals, saying it could lead undermine vital local knowledge.
There are also worries that it may result in a drop in standards in some places - for instance at the moment Greater Manchester Ambulance service has a 3-star performance rating as does Lancashire.
Compare that to Cumbria's 1-star and Mersey's 0-stars.
Jim Hancock presents Politics Show North West with Gill Dummigan
The Politics Show
Join Jim Hancock and Gill Dummigan on the Politics Show on Sunday 15 January 2006 at Noon on BBC One.
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