Fire Brigade to outsource 999 calls

Lives will be put at risk by moves to "privatise" the handling of emergency calls to the fire service, critics warned last night.

The outsourcing giant Capita has won the lucrative contract to handle 999 calls for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) – the largest in the UK – from the summer. Other brigades – under pressure to identify savings – will monitor the initiative to consider whether it can be introduced in their areas.

Chris Williamson, the shadow Fire Services Minister, claimed members of the fire service were anxious about the move, fearing private companies winning such contracts would not be accountable for mistakes.

He said: "People would be alarmed if they realised their lives are being put at risk by the cuts being imposed."

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: "It is outrageous that London has taken this politically motivated decision to privatise its control centre."

There is particular anger that Capita will run the service from a control centre in Morden, south London, built with public money – and use equipment paid for by the taxpayer.

It is hoped the contract will save £5m over its 10-year life. Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Councillor Brian Coleman, said: "Outsourcing the Brigade's 999 control centre will mean people in the capital benefit from a new, high-tech system that will mobilise our firefighters to incidents even more quickly at less cost."

Capita was unable to comment.

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