Fire service re-organisation is further step towards regionalisation by stealth
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has expressed concern at the Government’s announcement that a new South East Regional Fire and Rescue Service Control Centre will be situated in Fareham, Hampshire.
Mr Herbert believes that the closure of county control rooms represents a further move in a covert Government programme of regionalisation.
He highlighted other public services in West Sussex which are in the process of being taken further away from local people:
- Planning - planning decisions and housing targets are being imposed on local authorities by John Prescott and the unelected, unaccountable South East Regional Assembly.
- Policing - last month the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, announced that county police forces could be merged. It might make sense for forces to share some functions, but neighbourhood policing should be accountable to local communities. Regional forces would be a step in the opposite direction.
- Health - the NHS is centralising services around bigger units, threatening district hospital provision in West Sussex. Accident & Emergency services have been transferred from the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath to Brighton, and there is now concern that St Richard's in Chichester, which currently faces acute financial difficulties, could lose out to Portsmouth.
The new Fire Control Centre will see the closure of nine county control rooms and will serve eight million people in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Kent, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex.
Mr Herbert said that he recognised the need for modernisation of the fire services, but had not yet been persuaded that re-structuring fire services around Government Office Regions would be operationally sound or deliver the benefits promised by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Fire services in West Sussex are already some of the most modern and efficient in the country and have a call response time of 45 seconds.
Mr Herbert had signed a House of Commons Early Day Motion calling on "the Government to abort plans for the imposition of regional fire control centres."
Mr Herbert said that he had received a large number of representations about the changes from fire officers, their families and the public. He will be meeting with Chichester fire officers in the near future to hear their concerns.
Mr Herbert said: "I'm concerned about these proposals. It's not just that I haven't yet been persuaded of the need for change in fire services. I also believe that public services should be locally provided and locally accountable. All the Government's moves seem to be in the opposite direction - towards bigger units, further away from local people. They lost their battle for elected regional assemblies. Now they seem to be imposing regional government by stealth."