Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service has changed its preferred provider from Cambridgeshire to a Thames Valley collaboration with Royal Berkshire and Oxfordshire as part of their project to outsource its emergency control room services.

The decision was made at a special meeting of Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority yesterday [31 Oct] and has been welcommed by new partners Royal Berks and Oxon.

Vice-Chairman of Bucks, Cllr Andy Dransfield explained: "It became apparent that the date of the proposed changeover to Cambridgeshire, who were already involved in an innovative and complex integration with Suffolk, was slipping from April 2013 towards 2014 for a number of valid reasons.

"Coupled with the fact that we could not agree on cost-sharing and governance arrangements, we tasked our Chief Fire Officer with seeking other possible ways of securing a long-term deal which would best serve the people of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes."

Executive Committee Vice-Chairman Councillor Adrian Busby added: "Although the go-live date will now be April 2014, we are more confident of that date being achieved. The cost apportionment model being used for the partnership is clear and fair and will serve the taxpayers of all three areas well.

"The proposed financial deal with the Thames Valley partnership allows all three organisations to improve services and make significant savings, and that has to be a good thing."

Plans for a joint TVFCS between Berks and Oxon were approved by their respective governing bodies earlier this year, and they have been working in partnership on these plans since the Government's national FiReControl project came to an end in 2010.

The original proposals for the TVFCS included a collaboration with Bucks but in September 2011, BMKFA chose to pursue an alternative option with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services.

However, BFRS has now put forward a recommendation to join the TVFCS to Fire Authority Members, which is likely to approved in the next few weeks.

Bucks' Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones said: "When Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority chose its preferred provider last year, there were few known facts about the potential for a Thames Valley collaboration.

"It is a credit to Oxfordshire County Council and Royal Berkshire Fire Authority that they have moved in 12 months to a position of having secured a building and a working agreement for the long term. I am delighted that Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes will be joining that partnership and I look forward to working with our neighbours.

"For our staff, the date has moved but little else changes, and I know they will continue to deliver good services to those in need. For the public, as with any such change, it is our intention that they will notice no difference other than reduced costs and a modernised system for handling calls for help."

The addition of BFRS to the programme will also further strengthen resilience, as it will make the TVFCS co-terminus with both Thames Valley Police and the Local Resilience Forum.  This will streamline strategic decision making and operational command, particularly in the event of a major incident. 

Subject to political approval, work will begin on a revised, detailed staffing model to establish how many posts will now be required for the TVFCS and a full HR staff consultation process will be conducted at the appropriate time, with all three fire and rescue services committed to supporting their staff throughout the change process. 

The location of the TVFCS will remain unchanged as within RBFRS' new headquarters near Reading, which will include purpose-built accommodation for the new joint Control, including improved security measures while a non-staffed secondary Control room will still be located in Oxfordshire.

The overall programme deadline is expected not to be affected by BFRS joining the TVFCS, which is still anticipated to go live in April 2014.

Posted 02/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com