At Wednesday's meeting Cllr Alun Lenny presented a motion calling on the fire authority to consult and reconsider its decision. He pointed out that Mawwfire was now planning to set up a new control centre at a cost of millions of pounds in a joint project with South Wales Police and the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Dyfed Powys Police are not part of the scheme.
Cllr Tom Defis (Plaid) pointed out that whereas police, fire and ambulance were currently all working together in the same control room in Llangunnor, the move of the fire service control room to Bridgend would mean that the emergency services would no longer all be together.
Ahead of the meeting the Plaid councillors in Carmarthen had a meeting with the Assistant Chief Fire Officer, on which more below, and they also questioned the legal validity of the fire service's decision, which was taken in private after public and press were excluded. Cllr Lenny has asked whether the public interest test required under the 1972 Local Government Act was properly applied.
Although Labour and Independent councillors voted in favour of the motion (it would have been extraordinary if they hadn't), Calum Higgins (Lab) thought he could make some political capital out of the row, and began finger pointing at the Plaid group.
The fire service had been politicised, the young aspiring politician claimed, although he acknowledged that things had improved during the last year.
At a recent extraordinary meeting of the fire authority to discuss the resignation of the Chief Fire Officer, a lengthy report on the proposed relocation of the command centre had been tacked on to the agenda, and members had only had three days to read it. The agenda had made it clear, he said, that the report was only to be noted.
The chair of the authority, Roy Llewelyn, who also happens to be a Plaid county councillor, was in Calum's unpolitical view in the frame for blame.
Cllr Llewelyn was unfortunately not in the chamber to give his side of the story because he was attending the funeral of a close relative, but it seems that in common with other members of the authority, he was also under the impression that the report was merely to be noted, with full discussion and a decision to be scheduled for a future date.
Peter Hughes Griffiths said that Roy Llewelyn only had two weeks left as chair of the fire authority, but he understood that he would be seeking to have the report brought put back on the agenda.
Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) called on Plaid and Labour to work together for the good of the county. Both parties wanted the same thing, he said, and trying to apportion blame was the wrong way to go about it.
Minutes later Cllr Anthony Jones (Lab) was on his feet to say he was not interested in the politics before going on to make a string of political attacks while demonstrating once again that he had not understood why the Wales Audit Office had taken Carmarthenshire County Council to task.
Unfortunately for Cllr Jones, Calum Higgins popped up next to say that the members of the fire authority had not been under the impression that they had voted to approve the report at the meeting and had been very surprised to learn in the press that they had. Cllr Jones's fox had been shot and Calum was holding the smoking gun.
The last word goes to Cllr Alun Lenny, who has issued the following statement:
"It appears that the Plaid Cymru Chair, like councillors of all other parties on the Fire Authority, believed that the call control Centre report was to be noted – presumably for discussion and approval at a future date. This impression was confirmed by a Labour member of the Authority at this week’s Full Council meeting. It was gratifying to see councillors unanimously supporting my Notice of Motion opposing relocation, asking the Authority to reconsider and calling for full public consultation in the meantime. It shows the depth of cross-party concern in this matter, which reflects public outrage.
"On Monday, the Plaid county councillors representing Carmarthen town had a stormy meeting with Assistant Chief Fire Officer Derek Masson – who’s led on this project. We expressed in no uncertain terms our opposition to this fundamental change in the fire service. It’s outrageous that it’s being implemented without any public consultation. As well as losing up to 35 well-paid jobs in our county (which contributes £9m. towards running the fire and Rescue service), there are deep concerns about public safety.
"This is one issue where a basic knowledge of Welsh is essential. In their Briefing Note, the Fire Service says it will: maintain Welsh-speaking staff to ensure that those who wish to speak to our staff in Welsh can do so. That is to totally misunderstand the situation! This isn’t a matter of language rights, it’s a matter of control staff being familiar with Welsh place names and their locations. As a member of the fire brigade staff said: If Mr Jones of Maes-y-meillion, Llanfallteg makes an emergency call to say his farmhouse is on fire, how many times will he have to spell that to a person in Bridgend?
"This situation has precedent. In 2011 the UK Government changed its mind about closing Milford Haven and Holyhead Coastguard stations, mainly on these very grounds – that local knowledge of Welsh place names was a material safety consideration.
"As I said in proposing the Motion, the current Command and Control centres in Wales have been praised throughout the UK as “notable practise”. In other words, they work well. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? My fear – expressed by fire-fighters themselves – is that breaking up the present system on cost grounds could cost lives. It’s not worth the risk."