Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I have written to County Councillors today asking them to call the decision in. If you want to do the same you can check who your councillor is at this link: WSCC Councillors

My email is reproduced below:

Dear County Councillor,
I believe that it is essential that you protect the people of West Sussex by calling in Lionel Barnard’s decision on fire service cuts for the following reasons:
1. Despite his and the Chief Fire Officer's assertions, the evidence is simply not there to justify the decision. Aspirations and wishful thinking are not evidence. Examples include: 
  • “In the last five years we have reduced the levels of risk considerably across the county”. Not true, the evidence shows that the number of fire deaths in that period has increased significantly (from 1 in 2008-09 to 6 in 2012-13).
  • “The number of emergency calls we receive has reduced substantially”. Calls increase and decrease over time, but if you look at the full figures, the overall trend is that on average they are still increasing. Calls in 2012-13 were 9,504. Yet every year before 1987 they were lower and fluctuated between 3,000 and 8,000. Recent reductions from unusually high numbers have slowed and there is no evidence that they will not rise in future. 
  • “Recent reductions in calls are attributable to prevention work”. We might hope that prevention work plays a part, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Things the County Council has no control over, such as changing weather, social habits, and technology all play a much more significant part in decreases or increases in calls. Much of the recent decrease has also been artificial, as it results from a policy decision to refuse to attend certain incident types. 
  • “Getting to the root cause of emergencies, and broadening the preventative role of firefighters even further, will help us to build safer and stronger communities and improve the lives of people in West Sussex”. There is no evidence that this aspiration will be achieved. Similar claims have been made and such work has been going on over many years, yet there are still thousands of emergencies every year in West Sussex.
  • Group crewing will see “no reduction in performance”. Not only is there no evidence to support this, but common sense says that if you have fewer firefighters, then absences resulting from leave, promotions, transfers, sickness, injury, jury service, parental leave etc. will reduce the number available for duty. That can only reduce performance.
2. The evidence that response times will increase and more lives and property will be lost is clearly stated in the WSFRS supporting documents.
3. The consultation was an abject failure. Councillors, the public and the independent social research company were given reassuring and misleading claims about the effects of the proposals. Figures about an increasing number of fire deaths in recent years and an expected increase in fire deaths and property loss, as a direct result of the proposals, were not included in the consultation document or at the forums. Claims that a fire engine was to be moved from Horsham to Littlehampton were false. Claims that all the proposals had been analysed were also false. Claims that removing a fire engine from 3 stations would improve flexibility were false. This means that the consultation report is based largely on feedback from people who had not been given all the relevant facts, which makes it meaningless.

4. The proposals go against government recommendations that more fire engines should be crewed by retained firefighters. This will cut another four retained crewed fire engines, on top of the five cut in 2011. Properly managed retained stations are significantly more cost effective than wholetime crewed ones.
5. Figures quoted in the consultation document and supporting documents are different to those in the report to the Environmental Services Select Committee (e.g. the savings for proposal 3 reduced from £41,400 to £21,000 for each station, and the £200,000 cost of proposal 6 vanished completely). The committee was also given inaccurate figures in Sean Ruth’s report regarding fire deaths. It is difficult to have confidence in any of the figures quoted.
6. The most effective and least damaging option of a merger with a neighbouring service has not been properly considered.

7. The costs to implement these cuts look likely to be greater than the claimed savings. Redundancy costs and building costs at Littlehampton, which worryingly have yet to be calculated, could see any saving wiped out.
8. It is not true, as Lionel Barnard outrageously claimed on radio, that all of the 800,000 people in West Sussex knew about the consultation.
9. It is not true, as claimed by Lee Neale, that there is nothing more they could have done to make people aware. Publishing it in ‘West Sussex Connections’ would have been just one way of ensuring many more people were aware.

10. Lee Neale claims that on a daily basis, "we are constantly looking at where our risk is, we are constantly looking at the resources". Such nonsense may keep him occupied with charts and maps, but it does nothing to help those who need a fire engine quickly. The real risk is right across West Sussex, it does not change regularly, and the only mitigation is to have sufficient fire engines and crews spread sensibly across the County. Chief Fire Officers and County Councillors have done that well from 1948 to 2010. Please don't increase the damage done in 2011 with further cuts   

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