Union blasts regional fire unit plan

PLANS to modernise the fire service and create regional brigades "do not add up", according to a fire union.The Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said jobs could be axed and services lost in the fire shake-up revealed in Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's White Paper.

PLANS to modernise the fire service and create regional brigades "do not add up", according to a fire union.

The Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said jobs could be axed and services lost in the fire shake-up revealed in Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's White Paper.

Mr Prescott told MPs he would like to see a move towards regional fire services in areas with elected regional assemblies.

That could mean one brigade for the entire East of England area, including Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, with shared services and control rooms.

Paul Woolstenholmes, secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said the White Paper was "the blank cheque we were scared of".

He added: "It's what we have been saying will happen for months. Nothing came as a surprise – we could see what the Government was trying to do and maybe now people will listen."

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Mr Woolstenholmes said regionalising the fire service could see stations, controls rooms, staff and equipment cut to meet requirements.

The Ipswich-based firefighter added the pay offer recently agreed by the national FBU would have been "binned out of hand" if the White Paper had been unveiled before the deal was struck.

"I don't want to see pay rises on the back of lost jobs – I would rather not have my pay rise," said Mr Woolstenholmes.

"I know what to expect from this modernisation. How can we have better services with less firefighters and less engines? It just doesn't add up."

Russell Punchard, chairman of the Suffolk Retained Firefighters Union, said there were "plusses and minuses" to a regional approach.

"Some of the things in the paper are positive but others I'm a bit more concerned about. We need to see certain things clarified," he said.

"I'm in favour of joint control rooms, but not regional ones. There were problems with the ambulance service with regional control rooms and lessons should be learnt from that. I would be worried about losing local knowledge."

He said it was vital that brigades would be able to recruit staff to replace some of those lost through natural wastage, but added he was confident retained firefighters would continue to have a key role.

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