Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

November 14, 2011 09:30 ET

Strong Challenged on Cumbria Fire Control Axe Claims

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - Nov. 14, 2011) - The Fire Brigades Union is challenging Councillor Gary Strong over claims that fire authorities will be charged for the cost of abandoned regional fire control buildings even if they don't use them. The union says the claim is wrong and the county council must look at the decision to axe Cumbria's control again with the full facts in front of them.

The union is also questioning whether county councillors understand the full implications if they do sign up to pay for the regional fire control centre without the technology being in place. The Public Accounts Committee has already raised questions about what happens at the end of what are increasingly short-term leases for the regional control buildings.

The Warrington regional control centre is owned by Aaim Warrington Unit Trust and leased from them by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The 25-year lease worth £45 million was signed in 2008 and ends in 2033 and these costs cannot pass to fire authorities without agreement.

FBU brigade secretary Ade Kevern said: "Mr Strong's comments suggest the Cabinet made a decision on the back of a claim they would be paying for the rental costs of the abandoned regional control in any event. This is wrong and points to the need for full public consultation and proper scrutiny of this decision.

"The county council has built their case on claims about alleged savings, but not clear evidence about how they reached the figures. We know some of the figures over staffing costs are wrong, and a fundamental error like this sinks the savings claims entirely.

"If the fire authority does sign up to pay the rents I am not convinced county councillors know what they are signing up to before and after 2014. There are key issues about what will be in place from June next year through to 2014 which have not been addressed by Gary Strong.

"From 2014 there will only be 19 years to run on the regional lease. At the end of the lease in 2033 the owners can do what they like with the building and land, a fact highlighted at the Public Accounts Committee.

"If the technology does not work at a regional level by 2014 then the rental cost will be burning a hole in the pockets of taxpayers who will be paying for the interim measures as well as for the regional building. This is precisely what happened with the Government's regional control project and has been heavily criticised by a Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

"The key errors of the last regional project were that claims about the technology were exaggerated, claimed savings were non-existent and the financial and technology risks were ignored. To follow this already well trodden trail to disaster without full consultation is folly and the county councillors must look at it again."

Mr Strong made his claim while being interviewed by Annabel Tiffin on the BBC Politics Show North West on 6 November. A transcript of the relevant part includes:

Councillor Gary Strong: "…………we don't have to use the building in Warrington but we know for a fact that Fire and Rescue Authorities in this country, right across the country will be charged from their fire service budget for these buildings…"

NOTES

Page 8 National Audit Office report The failure of the FireControl Project, published 1 July 2011

17 The Department is trying to reduce ongoing future waste by incentivising local Fire and Rescue Services to use the empty regional control centres.

The Department is responsible for rent, utilities and facilities management costs for each of the nine regional control centres. It is currently offering Fire and Rescue Services subsidies to use the centres, but so far only the London control centre has been re-let. Public Accounts Committee report The failure of the FireControl Project, printed 14 September 2011

16. The London control centre is the only building which has been transferred to a Fire and Rescue Authority, the other eight centres remain empty. The Department is in negotiations with Fire Authorities to take over four of these buildings. [Note 36: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubacc/1397/139707.htm#note36] The Department holds 20 to 25 year leases on these buildings, and has a continuing liability for their rent, utilities and facilities management.[Note 37: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubacc/1397/139707.htm#note37]

Excerpts from oral evidence to the Public Accounts Committee Oral 6 July 2011. Sir Bob Kerslake is the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Q46 Chair: So who owns these white elephant buildings that we have around the place? Can I just get that clear? Who owns them?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The buildings are owned by the Department. They were leased buildings, in effect, so that we hold the leases. What Steve says is right—

Q47 Stella Creasy: Who is the freeholder, then?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Sorry?

Stella Creasy: Sorry. Who is the freeholder, then?

Q48 Chair: This is buy and lease back.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The freeholder is the companies that bought them, but they are on long leases.

Q49 Mr Bacon: How long?

Sir Bob Kerslake: 20 to 25 years.

Stella Creasy: So it is a PFI?

Mr Bacon: 25 years is not a very long lease.

Chair: It is a buy and lease back.

Q50 Mr Bacon: Do you mean that in 25 years' time they will own the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There will obviously be issues about whether the leases are extended on the contracts.

Q51 Mr Bacon: But if the leases were not extended, then in 25 years' time these companies would own the entire asset. That is correct?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.

Mr Bacon: They could then use it for something else, or knock it down, and they have the land.

Q52 Chair: Who are the companies?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a series of different companies who are involved.

Q53 Chair: Who?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not know. Roger, do you know?

Contact Information

  • Media Contact
    Ade Kevern
    07967 570362