Fire services’ control room merger backed

Fire services’ control room merger backed

THE MERGER between the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) control rooms has been backed.

BBC News reported on the backing for the plans, which come eight years after WSFRS merged its control room with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS), and the year after a new system was put in place, which saw WSFRS terminate its contract. As a consequence, deputy chief fire officer Neil Stocker told West Sussex County Council’s select committee that the new merger would make WSFRS ‘more efficient’.

In turn, the new merger was due to provide a ‘significant savings opportunity’, with councillors considering 20 options including ‘re-establishing an in-house service’, but the merger with SFRS ‘came out on top’. The WSFRS and ESFRS arrangement officially ends in February 2020, so the new control system ‘must be operational before then’, with a council report stating that SFRS had ‘superior technology’ to ESFRS.

Additionally, that report said it had previously managed fire control for the Isle of Wight, and ‘had a process’ in place to get WSFRS on board, with the merger requiring an ‘initial investment’ of £934,000. Despite this, the council forecasts annual savings of £855,000, which would make the arrangement ‘better value’ for taxpayers’.

The council meeting saw councillor Michael Jones question whether it was ‘worrying’ that SFRS’s call handling times ‘appeared to be worst’ than WSFRS’s, with WSFRS’s Jonathan Lacey stating that this was due to SFRS operatives ‘taking time on calls to prepare firefighters’ and ‘challenge whether they need to be deployed’ to automatic alarms. This meant in practice that there were slower call handling times but faster response times to emergencies.

The news outlet analysed the move, with BBC Sussex political reporter Ben Weisz stating that there were ‘plenty of advantages’ to the merger at the Reigate control centre, including ‘tried and tested software’ alongside ‘roadside cameras’ and data on ‘how quickly 999 calls’ are being answered, as well as ‘the chance to save money’.

Mr Weisz added in contrast however that there were ‘plenty of questions’, wondering ‘what might prove tricky’, and ‘how well thought through’ were the plans, alongside what might happen ‘if the move isn’t finished before the current deal is up’. He concluded that however ‘effective’ the merger might be, there is the ‘considerable matter of unpicking current arrangements first’, and ‘even with goodwill on all sides, that could prove tricky’.