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Operation Fresco

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to the recent announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that troops taking part in Operation Fresco have been stood down, whether these troops are available for alternative deployment overseas. [106995]

The announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear that Armed Forces personnel assigned to Operation Fresco were being stood down only until 15 April, at which point they would be held at five days' notice to move. Consequently, they are not available for operations overseas as they continue to be committed to providing essential fire and rescue cover, should there be another strike.The Ministry of Defence does, however, keep the operation under constant review to ensure that emergency fire cover is provided effectively and with the minimum impact on the Armed Forces. Based on the experience of the last 15 days of strike action, it has been agreed with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA), the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) that a reduction in the number of Armed Forces personnel committed to Operation Fresco from some 19,000 to around 16,000 can now be made. This reduction is made possible by revising shift patterns, reducing manning levels on fire appliances and amalgamating a number of Joint Operational Control Centres.

There will be no reduction in the effectiveness of the emergency cover arrangements or the total number of vehicles as a result of these changes. Nor will there be any increased risk to the public or the servicemen involved.

Armed Forces personnel released by these measures will be able to undertake normal military training and other duties. The largest group will be the personnel who make up 20 Armoured Brigade who will deploy to the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada to conduct normal high readiness training.