Firemen could strike over IT project

Plans to create a series of high-tech control centres have alarmed the fire service, given the government's poor record on major technology projects

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is threatening strike action over a £1bn government project to replace 46 local fire service operations rooms with nine new high-tech regional control centres.

The nine regional centres are scheduled to be up and running by the middle of 2008 as part of the FireControl project being run by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

The existing local control centres use different technology systems that are currently unable to talk to each other and FireControl aims to create a common system across the new regional centres.

The ODPM says benefits include automatic caller location for control operators and the ability to mobilise the nearest available fire crew more easily. The control centres will also be linked into a new secure digital radio system that is currently in the middle of a separate procurement process.

But the FBU points to the government's track record on high-profile IT projects and claims a similar disaster on FireControl will lead to cuts in fire services, push up council tax and put lives in danger.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said in a statement: "The government's track record on large scale technology projects is very poor. Their record suggests this project will be very expensive and fraught with difficulty. It's expensive, risky and won't save a single life."

The FBU said it will oppose the project "by all means possible" and will look at balloting its members on industrial action if ministers press ahead.

A spokeswoman from the ODPM told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com: "The government hopes to work constructively with the new FBU leadership and other trade unions in taking forward the modernisation of the fire service."