It is always gratifying when you read quotes from people who agree with the same principles you are fighting for.  So I ask you to read the following article, quoting Mike Penning and appearing on his web site.

Mike Penning

Labour cuts threaten fire safety across Hertfordshire

19th August 2005

Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead and a former fire fighter, today expressed his concern at the announcement by John Prescott’s Whitehall department that it is to shut down the local fire control room, replacing it with a distant regional call centre based in Cambridge.

These cuts to local fire services have occurred without any input from local people, and mean that 999 calls will be answered up to 100 miles away – by operators who have little knowledge of Hemel Hempstead and the surrounding villages. The restructuring process will cost a massive £72 million, re-diverting resources away from frontline protection.

Mike Penning asserted,

“Despite the rejection of regional government in November’s North East regional referendum, John Prescott is moving ahead with his expensive plans to create new regional fire quangos. This will mean the local fire control room will be shut down.

“As a former fire fighter I know from personal experience how a regional structure will put lives at risk, since 999 operators will have less knowledge of the Hemel Hempstead area The East of England region contains 5.4 million people, and covers a mammoth area of 19,000 sq km. Civil resilience could also be damaged by placing all our eggs in one basket. If the regional centre is forced offline by a disaster or attack, the whole emergency response will go down across a massive geographical area.

“I oppose this damaging regional agenda. I believe that fire and rescue authorities must remain close and accountable to local people. I fear that local fire stations could be next if distant regional politicians continue with their cuts. John Prescott’s regional empire building is playing politics with fire safety.”

A well presented argument for not using a regional structure for the fire service, with emphasis being put on the loss of local knowledge.  The building Mike Penning is talking about is a regional centre, not a national centre, such as Penning’s Folly, the newly proposed HQ for the Maritime Coastal Agency.

It was a strong, and successful, argument  for not having a regional call centre for the fire service.  And that was with the added bonus of people being able to use postcodes, street names and landmarks to identify where a fire was.

Now imagine the argument against having a national call centre for the Maritime Coastal Agency.  If this is Mr Penning’s view of a regional centre, why oh why, is he trying to push through a national centre for the Coastguard Service? All the above points made by Mike Penning, Shipping Minister, are absolutely spot on for keeping every single coastguard station and not playing politics with people’s safety at sea.  Even more so when you imagine the tides and currents taking people and boats a long way from the original incident site.  Oh yes, and there aren’t many street names to go by, nor postal codes nor buildings!  Cliffs and rocks, yes, everything else would be down to critical local knowledge.

So what has changed? Nothing,  just the names and the party in power!  But the wonderful thing about all this is that Mike Penning has given us the perfect argument against the cuts to the Coastguard Stations and this empire building.

Graham Warlow, ex Watch Manager,  has re-jigged the last two paragraphs to show how Mike Penning’ arguments are absolutely perfect for

Justine Greening

the Coastguard SOS team trying to save the Stations from closure.

As an ex Coastguard, I know from personal experience how a national structure will put lives at risk, since the operators will have less knowledge of the any area other than where they live. The fact that Mike Penning opposed a regional structure for the fire service because of an area the size of the East of England, covering a mammoth 19,000 square kilometres, makes the notion of a national centre, covering an area of 243,610 square kilometres (nearly thirteen times the size), as bordering on insanity! If the national centre is forced offline by a disaster or attack, the whole emergency response will go down across the whole of the United Kingdom.
I oppose this damaging national agenda. I believe the Coastguard and rescue authorities must remain close and accountable to local people. I fear that more local Coastguard stations could go if distant national politicians continue with their cuts. Justine Greening’s national empire building is playing politics with people’s lives.
Written by Lynne Gray

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