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Step closer for fire control mergers

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Management committee decides to put merger of Berks, Bucks and Oxon fire control rooms to authority

PLANS to merge Berkshire's fire control centre with Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire or London came a step closer this week when members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority voted to send the decision to a full committee meeting next week.

Berkshire's fire control room, where calls to the emergency service is answered, is currently located in Dee Road, Tilehurst, but the plans are to merge the centre with that of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in a combined Thames Valley control room at an estimated cost of £5.4m, or to join forces with London.

This has led to fears that Berkshire's of job losses – the centre currently employs 32 telephone operators – and that calls may in future be answered in a geographically distant centre, leading employing operators with less local knowledge.

The reasons for considering a merger are that it would lead to increased capacity to deal with larger volumes of calls, modernisation and financial savings.

At the fire management meeting on Monday (19), members highlighted a merger with Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire as their preferred option, but stressed that such a merger would also have to be approved by the two other authorities.

Fire authority member and West Berkshire councillor Paul Bryant (Con Speen), said: “If only two of these brigades can be brought together, then we should still try and progress with that.”

The move will largely be funded by a government grant worth £1.8m to each of the three brigades.

The options will now come before the fire authority's full council on Wednesday.

RBFRS fire officer Bryan Morgan said that the move followed the cancellation of the Labour government's plans to create nine regional control rooms that would have covered all of England, dubbed FiReControl.

He said that the modernisation of the control centres were essential, because of a lack of spending that occurred in anticipation of the now defunct plans: “One of the main benefits the technological improvements and combined centres would bring is resilience - allowing us to cope with bigger events such as regional floods.”

Mr Morgan conceded that job losses were likely, with numbers across the Thames Valley region cut by half in the case of a merger with Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, or even more in case of a merger with London.

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