Friday, 26 September 2014

West Sussex fire service cuts must be referred to the full Council

Reckless and Foolish

The fire service cuts decision must not be left to one man. Such a crucial decision must be debated by the full County Council. The people of West Sussex deserve to know which of their representatives will vote for slower response times, more deaths and more property damage, and which of them will vote to protect the people of West Sussex.

Lionel Barnard is clearly receiving some very poor advice from his officers and it is beginning to make him look foolish, as well as reckless. Among the ridiculous statements he has been prompted to make about the fire service cuts are:

‘All 800,000 people in West Sussex knew about the consultation’. Utter nonsense. Even if the proposals had been included in the County Council’s “West Sussex Connections” newspaper, which it should have been, it would still not be true. It is becoming clear that very few people knew about it.

‘I’m sure that if people had seen any dangers they would have replied’. The consultation document deliberately omitted the dangers and falsely claimed ‘no reduction in performance’, ‘improves flexibility’ etc. It even included blatant lies, such as ‘moving a fire engine from Horsham to Littlehampton, when they were actually cutting a fire engine and crew. The dangers were deliberately concealed.

‘We had a thousand replies, which is not as many as you might expect’. Yet, he then went on to say he did not have an expectation, which makes no sense. 1,000 replies is actually a very high figure for a County Council consultation and shows how deeply concerned people are.

‘The types of incident crews respond to has changed’. They have not, West Sussex firefighters are still responding to fires, road crashes, floods and a variety of other emergencies, just as they have done since 1948. The proportion of each may have changed, but all of them still require the speedy response of one or more fully crewed fire engines.

‘This is about improving our service’. Do his advisers really think the public are that gullible? A service that will take longer to arrive at many incidents, that has fewer fire engines to attend major incidents or multiple calls, and that will see more fire deaths and property destroyed is most definitely not an improved one.

‘This is about building a fire service that is fit for the 21st century’. No it is about slowly dismantling a vital public service, making it less fit than it was in the 20th century. Resources will be the worst since before World War 2.

‘Prevention is the name of the game.’ Chief Fire Officers and Councillors have been saying that for many years. My Grandfather was saying that in the 1920s, my Uncle in the 1950s, so the only change is who is saying it. Prevention has always been part of the service’s work, but it can never replace an effective response.

‘I’ve taken the decision that I have because the evidence is there to support it’. What Lionel Barnard claims to be supporting ‘evidence’, is nothing more than wishful thinking and illusion. The most striking evidence is that fire deaths have been increasing in West Sussex, that the proposals will result in more deaths, that response times will increase, that they have been failing to crew stations properly, and that more fire engines will be under-crewed or unavailable in the future.

Finally, the figures don’t add up. Between the consultation closing and the Environmental Services Select Committee meeting the saving claimed for cutting fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington dropped from £41,400 to just £21,000 each. The extra cost of changes at Littlehampton was £382,102, but by the meeting that had changed to ‘awaiting the costings’. Other costs resulting from the changes have not been determined, so to cut services when the real savings are unknown is reckless.

The first duty of government is to protect their citizens. County Councillors must not neglect that duty, they must refer the decision to full council.

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