21 December 2010
The failure of a government project which would have replaced the 46 fire service control rooms in England with nine regional centres will not pose a problem in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes thanks to some shrewd planning and foresight.
Mark Jones, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer, gave the reassurance following yesterday’s announcement by Fire Minister Bob Neill that the project, called FiReControl, had been cancelled.
Mark believes that much of the work already undertaken, and the knowledge acquired, has paved the way for new opportunities for joint working.
He said: “A few years ago, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority took the wise step of ensuring that we had a technical control solution that would be able to sustain us if the national project failed. Their foresight means that, technically, we could continue as before for the foreseeable future.
“Many fire and rescue services have awaited the delivery of the project and have been underfunded for their current control arrangements as a result. It hardly seems timely to have forced them to do something else one week after announcing that their revenue and capital funding is being reduced.
“The project has not been a total failure – some great and positive work has come out of it, such as a much greater knowledge of service needs for control and mobilising, the use of ICT in modern systems and the relative position of other fire and rescue services.
“It therefore seems certain that some rationalisation of fire control rooms may still occur, and any such changes may present good opportunities for Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service to do things differently in future. I look forward to the discussion that will take place over the next few months as each fire authority defines its position for the future.”
Mark said many of his officers had given much time to the project over several years, and the elected members of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority had contributed enthusiastically to regional working on this issue.
He said: “Much of the work was undertaken against a backdrop of staff insecurity, for many of our current control staff jobs seemed likely to be threatened by this new arrangement. It is testament to their professionalism that they continued to deliver high-quality public safety services throughout that period.”
Of the decision to cancel the project, Mark said: “Since the current government came to power, there has been much speculation and assumption about the demise of the national FiReControl project. One might imagine that the yesterday’s announcement would be a relief to some of us, in that we have given much time, effort and intellect to the project over several years, but in an odd way I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy.
“The idea, or principle, of having a set of almost identical control centres of a more viable size, providing excellent technical arrangements and national resilience, remains a good one. But the unwieldy and naïve execution by the previous government has caused the service some embarrassment nationally and lost us a massive opportunity. I can see how the new administration had little choice but to end this doomed project, but I shudder at the costs involved.”