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Firefighters: Axe our control room and we'll strike..'

PUBLISHED: 12:37 28 August 2008 | UPDATED: 10:02 23 August 2010

VIGILANT: Firefighter and FBU representative Mark Simmons.

VIGILANT: Firefighter and FBU representative Mark Simmons.

FIRE crews have threatened to strike in protest over plans to axe emergency control rooms across the country, claiming the project could cost the taxpayer more than £850 million, writes Ed Riley. The proposal, called Firecontrol, will see the closure of

FIRE crews have threatened to strike in protest over plans to axe emergency control rooms across the country, claiming the project could cost the taxpayer more than £850 million, writes Ed Riley.

The proposal, called Firecontrol, will see the closure of 46 fire service control rooms across England, leaving nine regional centres.

Latest research published on Tuesday by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reveals the cost of the project, which is now running three years later than planned, is spiralling out of control and currently stands at £868 million. They claim the final cost could rise as high as £1.5 billion.

Mark Simmons is the FBU representative for the South East and is based at Thames side Fire station in Coldharbour Road, Northfleet. He said: "If it comes to it, strike action in Kent is something that cannot be ruled out.

"We don't want this. A survey commissioned by the fire service found that 95 per cent of staff said these proposals will damage the fire service ability to respond to incidents.

"The boasts by the government early on was that it was going to pay for itself in five years, but this seems to be pure fantasy. The project is going to cost a fortune and the taxpayer is going to end up paying for it.

"There are 101 things we could do with that money. Rather than ploughing the money into a white elephant project like this, we should have the money to keep frontline staff and equipment.

"The fire service has had to deal with the Buncefield oil refinery fire, we have had floods, hurricanes, the IRA bombing campaign, the system always came up with the goods. What they are moving to now is the great unknown."

He warned: "These control centres won't be able to handle the volume of calls we need them too, placing people on hold, risking lives. It is dangerous."

According to FBU figures the costs for Firecontrol includes £278 million spent on management consultants, contractors and employment agencies, and £400 million on renting the new buildings.

The project will mean there will be one regional control centre for the south east, which would cover Kent, and nine other counties. It is now expected to start in 2011. Nick Ralph, FBU representative for Gravesend said: "Everybody knows this is a complete waste of time and money. What we want to say is that it is not too late for the government to change their mind. If it comes to it, then strike action could be a possibility. The government need to listen to us, and realise it won't work."

Fire Minister Parmjit Dhanda said: "This is FBU scaremongering. They have completely ignored the significant savings that will be made from running nine nationally networked centres instead of the current forty-six standalone outdated ones."

ed.riley@archant.co.uk

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