Unions warn of risk to Shropshire’s fire and control centre

A Fire Brigades Union secretary has warned of serious concerns over a bid by West Mercia’s Police and Crime Commissioner to take control of the county’s fire service.

Matt Lamb, Brigade Secretary for Shropshire said the county’s fire service is already understaffed and that any move to cut costs could put firefighters under greater pressure.

The comments come after John Campion, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Mercia launched a bid to take over as commissioner of Shropshire and Hereford & Worcester Fire Authorities.

Mr Lamb has also raised concerns over the future of Shropshire’s dedicated control centre in Shrewsbury, if Mr Campion’s bid is successful.

The business case commissioned by Mr Campion suggests moving Shropshire Fire & Rescue’s control room to a new facility being built in Hindlip as one way of saving money.

It states: “Substantial investment is already being made by West Mercia Police, Warwickshire Police and Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service in the new Hindlip control room together with a range of supporting investments in new infrastructure, hardware and software. While Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has and is making investment in ICT, the opportunity exists for it to join with the joint control room facility and for all services to align around the most appropriate software and technologies.”

In response the police and crime commissioner’s office was not able provide a commitment that Mr Campion would keep the centre open or ensure that all Shropshire fire calls are handled within the county.

A spokesman for Mr Campion said that such matters would be “operationally led decisions” to be led by chief fire officers and not the commissioner, whose role would be to look at governance of the organisations.

Mr Campion has said that he believes he can improve the service and make £4 million of savings across the two fire authorities and West Mercia Police if he is granted permission to take on the post as commissioner.

Mr Lamb said the fire service is already suffering the effects of cost-cutting.

He said: “There are a number of issues but we do not think the police and crime commissioner is the correct person to be running the fire service anyway. We think it needs to be independent. Neutrality is important to us.

“In terms of the business case we are yet to speak to him but there are no costings in it and to claim you can cut £4 million from budgets, it is difficult to see how, especially when there are no costings in the business case.

“We have lost more than 60 posts. What I see from people working in Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is people working very hard to fill the gaps left behind and that is very difficult and it is even more difficult to see where a further £4 million can be saved.

“There is no way £4 million can be saved from support staff. We do not count fire control as support staff, they are the front line. They deal directly with people, the public who need our help. They are the complete hub of the fire service and if he is thinking of closing fire control we would fundamentally disagree with it.”

Mr Lamb also warned of the consequences of cuts to the fire service budget.

He said: “In terms of cuts to the fire service it means not being able to deliver the service and what it means for our members is not having the correct people or resources at incidents and that means people put themselves at risk.”

Mr Campion insisted any changes he makes would be to governance and that he would be focussed on improving services.

He said: “My priorities are making sure our police and fire services are as effective and efficient as they can be, protecting and improving frontline services wherever we can.

“It’s important to remember any changes would only relate to governance. Our fire and police services would continue to be run by chief officers who are extremely experienced in their respective services. My role would be holding those officers to account, providing a strong voice on behalf of our communities and making sure their needs are being met.

“As such, decisions about things like control centres would be operationally led by chief officers. I would of course take their advice and have a role to play providing scrutiny and feedback on behalf of our communities, but it would be for chief officers to lead on operational matters.”