Row over North West fire control rages on

AN eleventh-hour plea has been issued by union bosses in Lancashire over much-maligned plans to open a North West fire control centre.

Fire Brigade Union leaders claim staffing at the unified HQ, in Warrington, due to go live in early 2014, is inadequate and hampered by an ‘unreasonable shift system’.

But fire service bosses insist Lancashire control staff are alr- eady applying in numbers for the £27,600-plus posts within the north Cheshire team.

Union officials are unhappy that only 37 operators, overseen by nine team leaders and five operations managers, will work in the new control room.

Branch secretary Steve Harman said in a consultation report: “They will be expected to work many more shift periods of a shorter duration, with as few as six full weekends rostered off each year.

“With only seven staff on duty at night, they are extrem-ely concerned that they will not cope during busy periods, which will then reflect badly on their professionalism.”

He claims there has been little consultation in drawing up the rotas.

“Even at this late stage, the FBU urges Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service to review the current business case, and to have a fallback position of a dedicated Lancashire mobilis-ing control room.”

But Bob Warren, director of people and development for the county brigade, is convinced that the union’s concerns do not add up.

London’s new control centre, which handled almost twice as many calls as its North West counterparts, had a ‘compar-able’ staffing level, said Mr Warren.

He was also adamant that the proposed staffing arrangement could cope with the expected calls demand.

Provision had been made for 135,000 per year, when the comb- ined total for all regional cont-rol rooms was just 114,000 last year.

Mr Warren added: “The shifts staff will work offer a much better flexibility than present arrangements to match the time staff spend on duty to demand, and will be anything but ‘unworkable’ as the FBU suggests.”

Last September, the Mersey-side brigade withdrew from the project for the combined centre, which was also branded a £14milion ‘waste of money’ by the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.

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