CAMBS: �160,000 a month to keep empty fire service control centre

MP MALCOLM Moss called on the Government to scrap a new regional fire service control centre near Cambridge that is haemorrhaging a staggering �166,000 a month whilst it stays empty. This centre will benefit no one and could i

MP MALCOLM Moss called on the Government to scrap a new regional fire service control centre near Cambridge that is haemorrhaging a staggering �166,000 a month while it stays empty.

"This centre will benefit no one and could in fact lead to greater danger," said Mr Moss, the MP for NE Cambridgeshire.

"No one has had the guts to say we should knock it on the head."

The 32,000 square feet building cost �23 million to build on the Cambridge Research Park at Waterbeach and was completed last year. It has been leased to the Government and was intended to be fully operational by now and housing the emergency 999 control room for fire services across six counties.

However delays over IT software means the centre can't open until 2011 at the earliest- and may never open at all if the Conservatives win the next election.

"I think when we get in we are going to stop it," said Mr Moss.

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Both he and Steve Barclay, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate chosen to succeed him at the next election, have begun a campaign to get the centre scrapped.

Mr Barclay said the centre - which will serve Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk- was another example of regionalisation by the back door.

"This is an ill thought through project, badly managed, and running way over cost," he said. "I think the public has the right to know what have been the true costs of this fiasco and how long Government funding is going to last."

"I am not attacking the Cambridgeshire fire service in any way- this is a Government initiative and a questionable one at that."

Both Mr Moss and Mr Barclay have found an unlikely ally in the Fire Brigade Union whose spokesman Duncan Milligan, head of communications and research, described it as "classic Government cock-up".

Mr Milligan said: "They still can't get the software to work which has caused these massive delays. This system will never work as the Government outlined it. At the moment it is a question of whether this Government abandons the plans this year or the next Government abandons them next year."

He conceded it was odds-on the Tories would win the election "and they have made it very clear what their views area. They should tell the contractors now that this bird simply ain't going to fly."

He said monthly running costs had doubled this year because of the need for 24/7 security at the site and the fact rents, leasing and maintenance costs needed to be met.

Shahid Malik, the Government minister responsible for the fire service, told Mr Moss that the project had been put back 10 months because of technology delays.

He claimed the strategy of replacing 46 stand alone control rooms with nine regional centres would have "very substantial benefits". In fact a Government paper outlining the business case for all regional centres shows the negligible projected savings for the Cambridge project- potential savings of just �66,000 on current costs of �7.43 million per annum running costs.

Mr Malik promised the Government would continue to foot "all upfront costs associated with the project" and to ensure no costs were placed on local fire authorities.

He remained confident the first regional centre would open in the spring of 2011 with the last to switch over by the end of 2012.

Mr Barclay brought up the costs at a recent meeting with Graham Stagg, Cambridgeshire's chief fire officer.

"Mr Stagg confirmed that central Government was footing the bill for this, so basically it's not affecting local services," said Mr Barclay.

"However it's preposterous to be spending this money at a time when many services are facing cuts and taxpayers worried about their jobs have to pick up this bill.