AM to question First Minister over Fire Service control room mergers

Concern has been raised over the decision to merge fire service control rooms and relocate from Carmarthen to south Wales.

Carmarthenshire AMr Rhodri Glyn Thomas has requested a statement from the First Minister of Wales following the announcement that Mid and West Wales Fire & Rescue Service will merge its control room functions with the South Wales Fire Service and South Wales Police Force and relocate from Carmarthen to Bridgend.

The Joint Public Service Centre is proposed to start in April 2016.

Mr Thomas has said he is concerned the decision to approve the merger was taken when the press and public were excluded from the meeting. He also expressed concern that the documentation has not been made publicly available.

The Newcastle Emlyn AM and Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Communities has this week tabled a question to the First Minister requesting a full statement on the plan, stating that the emergency services must be completely open with members of the public about the need for this change.

Carmarthenshire MP Jonathan Edwards, who recently submitted a 3,000 signature petition to the National Assembly against fire station closures, reiterated his calls for a national debate on the structure and delivery of emergency services, stating that the Welsh government must look to protect our emergency services from severe budget cuts.

Speaking ahead of his question the First Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

“The Mid and West Fire Service control room serves the communities of a quarter of Wales’s population and around half the size of Wales geographically. It is a very bold step indeed to say this service can be better delivered after being centralised eastwards to an area outside of Mid and West Wales.

“I am concerned that this decision was taken whilst members of the public and press were excluded from the meeting, and that no documentation of this proposal is in the public domain. I am further concerned by the potential for job losses which we have so far heard nothing about.

“It is vital that public authorities operate with full transparency – not least on decisions to remove services from our communities. I would expect the fire authority to release all of the information which was made available to fire authority members.

“A catalogue of concerns has been raised with me regarding this decision which prompted me to table a formal Assembly Question to the First Minister. I will be requesting that he and his officials look closely at these plans and justify how Carmarthenshire – and the wider Mid and West Wales communities – can lose the local control room without any compromise to their safety.”

Jonathan Edwards added:

“Changes to our emergency services are emotive issues. Communities must be able to scrutinise all proposals and decisions if our public services look to change.

“When I presented my petition against fire station closures to the National Assembly earlier this year, I said a national debate about the future of the fire service was needed. I stand by those comments today.

“We can’t be in a situation where communities and fire service personnel are fighting one proposal after the next. The Welsh government must show leadership with a debate about the way in which our emergency services are structured and protect our services from severe budget cuts.

“Saving money is no excuse if there is the slightest diminishing of service. Therefore I am yet to be convinced the removal of the control room out of Carmarthenshire - indeed out of mid and west Wales - will improve the ability of the fire service to respond to calls. All documentation must now be made publicly available.”

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