Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Austin Mitchell MP (FRS 42)

  I'm pleased that you are holding an enquiry and grateful for the opportunity to submit evidence.

  My concerns echo those of the Fire Brigades Union but with a special emphasis on the needs of South Humberside.

  1.  Grimsby is part of South Humberside, an area which is always tagged onto the end of the bigger units of regional government. We do not fit naturally in either Yorkshire, which we belong to for regional government purposes, or the East Midlands to which the South Bank of the Humber was previously attached. This remoteness from any regional centre in a reorganised fire service is going to cause problems and may cause delays and difficulties.

  2.  These problems stand to be heightened by the industrial make-up of the area. The South Bank is a concentration of oil refineries, chemical industries, gas generators which pose unique dangers already indicated by the Flixborough explosion in the Seventies, the Conoco fire more recently, and intermittent problems with emissions and the storage of dangerous chemicals.

  3.  It is a coastal and riparian area subject to occasional flooding.

  4.  In this situation a centralised control system which is rapidly increasing in estimated costs (already doubled in ministerial estimates) which are going to absorb a substantial part of the fire service budget and, therefore, weaken other services is a risk too far.

  5.  Because this concentration is a large new technological project the danger is that the early days will see the generation of problems. The system will be complex, risky and subject to a long settling in and proving time which heightens risk and danger in an area like mine.

  6.  Regional concentration may make co-operation with neighbouring forces to the south more difficult than it has been.

  7.  As a great believer in the maxim that if it ain't broke we shouldn't try to fix it, I am not convinced that the case has been made out. I have seen no demonstration of inadequacies in the present system which would justify such a massive change and certainly none to justify the job cuts which seem to be an implicit part of the claimed cost savings.

  Finally, I must comment that the pace of change should not be rushed. We make our worst mistakes as a government and as a country when we rush into large changes, particularly in such a complex technological field as this. The risks, delays, indeed disasters which have attended other IT changes cannot be afforded when we are dealing with such a vital service as fire and emergencies.

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