Wednesday, 17 September 2014

More misleading and inaccurate information from the Chief Fire Offcier

The Environmental & Community Services Select Committee meet on Thursday to consider a report from the Chief Fire Officer about the cuts. You will not be surprised that the report contains inaccuracies and misleading information. I have emailed the committee members to point the worst of these out (see below). The numbers below refer to the paragraphs in the CFO's report that can be found with the agenda on the WSCC website

Dear Committee Member,
At Thursday’s meeting I believe that you will be taking, for the first time, decisions that are matters of life and death. I would therefore be most grateful if you would read these comments alongside the report by Sean Ruth (Executive Director Communities, Public Protection and Chief Fire Officer).

True or false
The reality
“There has been an increase in the average response times to
building fires in England”
The closure of fire stations and reductions in the number of fire engines across the UK have increased response times. Some deaths have been attributed to these closures and cuts. These proposals will make that situation worse.

“The severity of fires and numbers of casualties has decreased”
Partly true
Despite some decreases, the cost of fire damage has increased. The number of fire deaths in West Sussex has increased every year since 2008-09.

“National trends over the last decade” etc.
The number of incidents fluctuate annually, so just looking at the figures for two years, ten years apart, does not give you a trend.

“WSFRS has followed the national trends”
The changes in West Sussex have not been shown in this paragraph, because they are less impressive. If you take the last 30 years and look at a more reliable four year average at each end of that period, the figures are:

Total incidents attended up 45%
Special services, including road crashes, up 78%.
Fires have dropped, but only by 1%
Fire engines have already been cut by 13%.

Removing a fire engine from service at Horsham will, “improve Service performance”.
Improving response times for Littlehampton’s 1st fire engine at night will come at the cost of poorer response times both day and night in the North of the County.

Cutting the number of firefighters at immediate response stations will, “maintain existing crewing levels where possible”.

‘Where possible’ indicates that the CFO knows this proposal will see reduced crewing levels more often, so he has built in a get out clause.
Cutting the number of firefighters at immediate response stations will, result in “no reduction in response standards”.
There is no evidence to support this contention. It has not been analysed or risk assessed. Common sense says that with fewer firefighters there will be more occasions when fire engines become unavailable. The cuts will reduce the ability of stations to withstand absences resulting from leave, promotions, transfers, sickness, injury, jury service, parental leave etc.,

Removing the 2nd fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and
Storrington, will have a “minimal impact on performance”.
Even the overly optimistic Modelling and Analysis Technical Report concedes that this proposal will result in ‘more cost in terms of life and property damage’. A full analysis using more data is likely to show that cost will be much greater.

Removing the 2nd fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington, will “improve flexibility”.
Removing the 2nd fire engine significantly reduces flexibility. There is no improvement in flexibility offered by the 4x4s, as these stations already have them.

Removing the 3rd fire engine at Crawley will have “minimal impact on Service performance”.
Even the overly optimistic Modelling and Analysis Technical Report concedes that this proposal will result in ‘more cost in terms of life and property damage’. A full analysis using more data is likely to show that cost will be much greater.There has also been a recent increase in fire deaths and fire rescues in Crawley.

Removing the 3rd fire engine at Crawley will be “more proportionate to risk and operational demand”.
Crawley has the highest number of calls in West Sussex and more occasions when more than one call has to be dealt with at the same time. It is already under resourced and this will make the situation even worse. It will also reduce cover in other areas when their fire engines have to deal with calls in Crawley.

Remove the 2nd fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington will save £63,000
Not sure
The documents issued with the consultation suggested that the saving for each station would be £41,400 (total £124,200). Which is correct? If the saving is only £63,000, surely there are alternatives to avoid the extra deaths and property damage.

Reductions in management and Support Services will save £290,000

Not sure
No detail has been published, so it is impossible to know if this figure is correct

Total saving = £1.6m
Proposal six is an increase in spending of £220,000, and proposal 8 will incur additional costs arising from overtime and recall to duty payments. The saving cannot therefore be £1.6m.

“Alternative Options Considered”
True, but worrying
It was quite right to rule out the other crewing options, but why was that the only alternative considered?

“There were only two specific alternative proposals submitted”

Alternative proposals were not requested. Had they been there may well have been more.

Merger - this has previously been considered by the County Council.
Previous consideration is not a reason for excluding this option. There has been time to overcome any obstacles to a merger with East Sussex, and time to consider a merger with Surrey or Hampshire. A responsible review would have looked at these options as they would be highly likely to save over £1m without affecting service provision.

A full report on the consultation feedback will be presented to the select committee meeting by ORS
Whilst ORS have done a professional job, their research has been undermined by the misleading information and omitted information provided by WSFRS. Consequently, for example, forum attendees and consultation respondents were not aware of the additional cost in terms of life and property damage associated with some of the proposals, or that claims of West Sussex becoming safer omitted the increase in fire deaths.
The samples at the forums were extremely small, so are not representative. For example, the FBU response gives the views of around 30 times the number of staff who were at the staff forum. ORS says that consultation with informed audiences is especially valuable. The 300 or so firefighters represented by the FBU are clearly well informed, so their views should be given considerable weight.
“The figures for fatalities in West Sussex for the last three years have risen from 4 in 2010/11 to 6 in 2013/14.”
There were only 3 fire deaths in 2010/11. Actual figures were:
2008-09 = 1
2009-10 = 2
2010-11 = 3
2011-12 = 4
2012-13 = 6

“The Service do not believe that it has deliberately been misleading or provided inaccurate information”.
So is ‘the service’ saying it accepts that it has been misleading and has provided inaccurate information, but did not do so deliberately? Deliberate or not, omitting information such as the predicted increase in lives lost and property damaged from both the consultation document and at the forums has denied people the full facts.

Proposals one, two, three, five, six and eight” will improve service delivery.
The limited night time improvement from proposal one at Littlehampton is offset by the reduced service delivery at Horsham both day and night. Proposal six may offer limited improvement, but that will be more than offset by the reduced service delivery from proposals one, two, three, four and five.

There will be some improvements to service delivery and improvement in the Service’s resilience through proposal eight.

There is nothing new in this proposal, so it is unclear how there will be an improvement. If there is any improvement, it will be more than offset by the reduction of 5 fire engines.
Resource Implications and Value for Money
The additional costs are vague, but it looks like far more will be spent to achieve these cuts than will actually be saved.

Equality Impact Report
The Equality Impact Report has completely failed to consider the more significant effects of proposal 3 on the rural poor, rural elderly and rural ethnic minorities, and the more significant effects of proposal 4 on the elderly, poor and ethnic minorities in Crawley Borough.

The Service has met with the Gatwick Airport Fire Service Manager, who raised no objections to the proposals.
I have no reason to doubt this, but he has no responsibility for fire cover at Gatwick. It is West Sussex County Council that is responsible, so he no doubt would not wish to interfere.

The Service believes that its proposals, when implemented, will improve emergency cover in certain rural parts of the county.

This is unbelievable spin, as there is no evidence to support the claim. 
There are also some unanswered questions that you may wish to have answered: 
  • Why were some proposals not analysed and risk assessed, especially as the consultation suggests that they all were?
  • Between 11 and 17% of attendances fail to meet the standards, so why are they not investigated and reported to County Councillors?
  • How bad are the worst examples of those attendance failures and why did they occur?
  • Why has WSFRS not followed WSCC initiatives to significantly reduce senior and middle management positions?
  • If money is short, why are officer cars being replaced with more expensive and more polluting 4x4xs?
  • Why is it suggested that the 4x4s are for flooding, when they are not designed for flooding and standard advice is for them not to enter flood water?
  • Why are there twice as many cars in WSFRS, as the proposed number of fire engines?
  • Why has WSFRS not followed WSCC policy on reducing travel by car in favour of using public transport?
  • At the restaurant fire in Petworth on 12 September why were the nearest available fire engines Arundel, Selsey, Haslemere and Horsham.

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