Cornwall councillors have recommended that Cornwall’s fire and rescue service call centre should remain in Cornwall in the interests of public safety.
Cornwall Council had considered out-sourcing the critical control centre to somewhere else in the UK to try and save money.
However, the proposals faced strong opposition from firefighters and councillors who were concerned that such a move could put lives at risk.
As a result the council went back to the drawing board and drew up a number of different options for the future operation of the service.
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service currently has a control centre at Tolvaddon which handles all 999 calls and manages the response by firefighters to calls. However the council said that it needed to consider other options and suggested that it could outsource the service to another fire brigade elsewhere in the country.
Today the council’s neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the council’s cabinet that it should consider an option which would see the service retained 24 hours a day in Cornwall.
Whilst it was warned that this would cost more to provide, councillors said that the extra cost would be worth it.
The committee has been looking at all the different options over the last six months which has involved them speaking to those who work in the fire and rescue service both in the control centre and as firefighters as well as visiting other fire services outside Cornwall to see how they operate.
Three options had been tabled for the committee – the first would have seen the Tolvaddon centre close and the service outsourced. However, councillors said there had been no expressions of interest to take this on and it was not considered to be viable.
The second option was to retain the call centre operations during the day but then switch to another fire service overnight. Councillors dismissed this option as they did not consider it would be in the interests of people in Cornwall to have the service provided outside of the Duchy and there were concerns about the loss of local knowledge.
The third, and preferred option amongst councillors, is to retain the service 24/7 in Cornwall, which they said would be the best way to go forward.
Councillor Jim McKenna, who proposed the option for recommendation to cabinet, said: “It retains the service 24/7 in Cornwall. If we have anything else we would be dismantling part of the service being provided.”
The Independent councillor highlighted there was a need to retain the service in Cornwall due to the increased risk which occurs in the summer in Cornwall and he said there was no real difference between calls being received during the day or night.
He added: “Staff morale is something we haven’t touched on, it has been tough for staff, not just in the control centre but the wider service. This (option) would be a strong vote of confidence in our fire service.”
Barry Jordan said he totally agreed with Cllr McKenna and added: “The fire service is a critical service, it has to be funded and it has to be run properly. We have to support the fire service 100 per cent and option 2b (the preferred option) is the best way we can do it.”
Laurie Magowan said councillors had to acknowledge there were additional financial costs for choosing their preferred option, but he said it was considered that the extra expenditure would be worthwhile.
He said: “The focus for me is investing long needed investment in a well-structured, well-run service and that is around, ultimately, protecting public safety.”
And Jane Pascoe added: “I support option 2b because I think it is the best option in the interests of our residents. Safety must not be compromised due to cost, we must fund that (extra money) within our budget.”
Sophie Hosking, strategic director for neighbourhoods, warned councillors their preferred option could cost almost £500,000 more a year to provide and said there was no allocation for this in the budget. She said she would have to try and find that money from within the Fire and Rescue Service Budget or it would have to come from the council’s wider budget.
Cllr McKenna had said with the council having an overall budget of around £1.4billion and a net revenue budget of £700m, the additional cost “in terms of scale it is almost infinitesimally small really”. He added: “In the scale of things it is absolutely minute but the impact is very, very significant indeed.”
The cross party committee voted unanimously in favour of recommending option 2b to the council’s cabinet which would mean the service would continue to be provided 24/7 within Cornwall. The cabinet is set to consider the recommendation when it meets on March 22 and will make the final decision on the future provision of the control centre.