I know that some hoped that common sense would return to West Sussex County Council after Sean Ruth turned down the expensive job they created for him. Sadly not, they are still planning to have both a Chief Fire Officer and an Executive Director, Communities and Public Protection. I have therefore written an open letter to Council Leader Louise Goldsmith -
Dear Councillor Goldsmith,
We were told that reduced Government funding had forced the County Council to make significant cuts to the fire & rescue service. This has increased response times, which has put residents and their property at greater risk. Those cuts included the removal of three front-line fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington to save just £63,000.
Yet, despite the shortage of money, the Council has now advertised for an Executive Director, Communities and Public Protection that will cost close to £200,000 a year. For at least three years the previous Chief Fire Officer ran the directorate, apparently to your satisfaction. It is therefore astonishing that the Council now considers it necessary to appoint someone to supervise the new Chief Fire Officer, especially as around 90% of the directorate’s budget is for the fire & rescue service.
Chief Fire Officers in other County Councils also run extra Council departments, but don’t cost their Councils as much as the West Sussex Chief Fire Officer, let alone the ridiculous sum to be paid to the Executive Director. Gloucestershire, for example, has a Chief Fire Officer who is also responsible for road safety, trading standards, information and communication technologies, registration and coroners services, civil protection and community safety, but costs the Council less than £150,000 a year.
The decision to more than double the Directorate's senior management costs, to nearly £400,000, flies in the face of both common sense and prudent financial oversight. I would therefore urge you to immediately stop the unnecessary appointment of an Executive Director, Communities and Public Protection.
I will be grateful if you would also answer the following questions:
1. Why is the new Chief Fire Officer considered incapable of managing the directorate without an expensive supervisor?
2. Why does a directorate that now has fewer employees need additional senior management?
3. Why have County Councillors not been consulted on such a significant and costly change?
4. Is there a business case to support the change (i.e. documentation setting out the justification, rationale and costs) and, if not, why not?
5. If there is a business case, then why has the Council been frustrating a legitimate Freedom of Information Act request to produce it for over six months?
6. Who approved the splitting of the Executive Director/Chief Fire Officer post in to two separate posts at a cost of nearly £400,000?
As this is a matter of significant concern, I have copied other interested parties in to the letter. I will be grateful if you would copy them in to your reply please.