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Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Wolverhampton regional fire control centre costs rising

Nick Watson
By Nick Watson
Producer, West Midlands Politics Show

It is one of nine regional fire control centres proposed nationwide as part of the government's FiReControl project.

The delayed regional fire control centre is costing taxpayers £5,500 a day even though it is not open yet.

That is the claim of the Fire Brigades Union, who have campaigned against the centre in Wolverhampton.

It is one of nine regional fire control centres proposed nationwide as part of the government's FiReControl project.

Under the plans they will replace the current network of 46 local centres.

Fire Control Centre
Inside the empty fire control centre in Wolverhampton

The Fire Minister Shahid Malik admitted this week that the project has been dogged by delays.

"The truth is this wasn't the perfect start," he told a special hearing of the Department of Communities and Local Government and Communities select committee this week.

Detailed work

"The concept and vision was fine but I don't think the detailed work was there," he added.

The government wants the Wolverhampton centre, which is nearing completion, to replace the current set-up of five local call centres.

They say it will help to improve response and coordination between fire services - particularly during major incidents like flooding.

However delays in finalising building and IT contracts have been blamed for holding up the roll-out of the new centres.

Green Paper

The government announced recently that it was pushing ahead despite the problems and is hoping the Wolverhampton centre will be open by May 2011.

Before then though there must be a general election and the Conservatives have shown hostility to the plans.

Fire Minister Shahid Malik MP
"Taxpayer deserves better" says Fire Minister Shahid Malik MP

Business Select Committee Peter Luff, the MP for Mid Worcestershire, recently described the scheme as a "white elephant" and called for it to be scrapped.

"Many of us were warning about the folly of all this from the start. Why were these warnings not taken seriously by the government?" he said.

Shadow Communities Secretary Caroline Spelman condemned the plans to replace call centres with what she called "distant call centres based on the government office regions."

A Green Paper from the Tories in 2006 the party also pledged to dumped plans.

"A Conservative government will follow the Scottish example and ditch this botched project, where such regional centres have not yet gone live," it said.

Monty Python

The Fire Brigades Union has also opposed the scheme from the outset.

Recently they said the project was like Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch "with everyone knowing it was dead apart from Government which insists it is still alive."

The original business plan for the regional call centres put the overall bill for the nine centres at £340m but already £420m has been spent and that figure is sure to rise further.

As Mr Malik told the select committee: "The taxpayer is right have expected better.

"All I can say is we are in a much better position now".

So as Michael Palin famously said in that Python sketch, the parrot is not dead - just resting.

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