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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Regional fire centres to go ahead
Fire engine and equipment
Union leaders say the control centres will put lives at risk
A new network of nine regional fire control centres is to be built at a cost of 1bn, the government has said.

While involving the closure of the 46 existing control centres and the loss of 380 jobs, the move "will better protect the public", ministers said.

But the Fire Brigades Union described the plans as "criminally irresponsible" and warned they will make the service less effective and more expensive.

The plans were broadly welcomed by the country's chief fire officers.

'National incidents'

The new regional centres will enable firefighters to respond more quickly to incidents and improve their safety by providing accurate information before they reach the scene of an emergency, said Fire Service Minister Jim Fitzpatrick.

He said the recent London bombings had shown the need for control centres able to deal with terror attacks or natural disasters.

The new scheme will ensure that there are fewer staff to deal with more calls from the public
Ruth Winter - FBU

"While existing control rooms do a good job, they are not designed to deal in a co-ordinated way with major regional or national incidents," he said.

He said the new network would also "be much more efficient, which will free up resources for other Fire and Rescue Service work, such as fire prevention".

Mr Fitzpatrick said the new centres would deliver savings of about 30%, or 20m a year.

Although the cost of the plans will be 1bn, the same amount would have to be spent to upgrade existing control rooms, he said.

Fewer staff will be needed, but it was hoped that compulsory redundancies could be avoided.

Seven of the new sites were announced on Wednesday. They are in Durham, Warrington, Cambridge, Derbyshire; Wolverhampton, Wakefield and Taunton.

A site in the South East is still to be confirmed, while one has already been set up in London.

'Technology rainbow'

The government's argument that the moves will make the fire service more efficient were dismissed by the FBU.

FBU president Ruth Winter said more than 44m would be spent on consultancy fees alone - enough to pay for an extra 1,400 firefighters.

"The money is being used to line the pockets of yet more consultants to allow them to chase yet another technology rainbow, using untested technology," said Ms Winter.

"To find the money, the new scheme will ensure that there are fewer staff to deal with more calls from the public."

The loss of controllers with local knowledge would also be felt, the FBU said.

An Early Day Motion calling for a rethink had been backed by 219 MPs, the FBU said.

Further demos over fire reforms
11 Apr 05 |  England

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