Monday, 15 December 2014

County Councillors or Unwise Monkeys?

You will remember my post earlier this month about Councillors refusing to listen to concerns about WSFRS. The meeting Chair told me to put my questions in writing and assured me that they would be answered. Well surprise, surprise, they have not been.

I asked if County Councillors were aware that the average response time for incidents had increased, and that the availability of retained crews had got worse. I have had a reply, but it seems that Councillors are following the three wise (or in this case unwise) monkeys - ‘see no concerns, hear no concerns and speak no concerns’.

The reply said, “These are operational matters that members would expect to fall to the direction and control of the Chief Fire Officer. The Cabinet Member receives regular briefings on issues of significance or concern. Matters of direct interest to specific localities would be referred for information to the relevant member in accordance with the County Council’s protocol on local member notification.”

So it appears that increased response times and a 10% reduction in the average availability of RDS pumps in West Sussex, in just one year, are not considered ‘issues of significance or concern’. Neither, it seems, are they concerned that the reduction at East Wittering, in their area, is over 40%.

Other areas affected include Crawley where the drop over 5 years has been from 78% to just 34%, Midhurst’s 2nd pump from 87% to 61%, and Petworth’s 2nd from 76% to 51%. But it is alright, they have a plan, not to fix it of course, but to drop the availability to zero% by removing those fire engines.

This is not the fault of the firefighters at these stations, it is the fault of County Councillors who just bury their heads in the sand. If they are not going to properly monitor the services they provide, and not going to deal with poor performance, then what is the point of County Councillors?

With Cabinet Members receiving allowances that are well in excess of what many WSCC staff earn, it seems they are getting much more than they deserve. For the record, Lionel Barnard received £30,750 in allowances, plus £5,859 expenses last year. That is nearly twice what WSCC are paying some social care workers.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Unbelievable nonsense from the County Council about next years cuts

Who on Earth is Richard Burrett trying to kid when he says, "they are savings, they are not cuts". At the last County Council meeting Richard Burrett and his Conservative cronies voted against a motion to stop cuts to the fire service. 

His administration is cutting five fire engines in the County next year, even though the Council's own report shows that this will mean longer response times, more property damage and more deaths. They are also cutting the number of firefighters, which will mean more cases of fire engines not being available, or having to respond with insufficient crews to carry out rescues.

All this after changes they have made since 2010, which include cutting 3 fire stations and 6 fire engines. Those changes resulted in longer response times and deteriorating availability of retained (on call) crewed fire engines. Despite claims of more prevention work, fire deaths have increased in West Sussex every year since 2008/09.

You may drive past your local fire station and see a modern fire engine waiting to respond, but if you have an emergency there is no guarantee it will come to your aid. For example the retained crewed fire engine in East Wittering was available for 89% of the time in 2012/13, but last year was only available 47% of the time. For more than half the year people in the area had to wait for help from Chichester or from further afield.

Do not be fooled, this Conservative administration is doing their Conservative Government's bidding and cutting essential services. Party interests are taking priority over the welfare of West Sussex residents and their cuts will even cost some West Sussex residents their lives.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

County Councillors deaf to safety concerns

The County Council say on their website, “Concerned about a local issue? Then speak to your County Local Committee and make your voice heard”. So, concerned about the deterioration in fire cover in the area, I thought I should voice my concerns at the South Chichester County Local Committee meeting this week.

Well guess what, they didn’t want to hear my concerns, or to answer my questions. I was interrupted and told by the meeting Chair, Margaret Evans, to write to the Chief Fire Officer or Cabinet Member Lionel Barnard. Councillor Pieter Montyn strongly supported her refusal to hear my concerns, which was ironic as the fire cover in his Electoral Division has seen the worst deterioration.

What I wanted to ask was if the County Councillors at the meeting were aware of deteriorating fire cover. If they were, I wanted to ask what they were doing about it and, if they were not aware, then I wanted to know why they had not been given this important information.  

You would think that Councillors would be concerned about public safety in their area, but it appears not. Had they listened I would have told them:

1. That the average response time for incidents has increased in West Sussex from under 7 minutes to over 9 (Five year averages for 1994-95 to 1998-99 compared to 2009-10 to 2013-14). Bear in mind that is the average and that it is the longer response times in rural areas that are likely to have increased the most. For comparison, East Sussex has also increased, but only from under 6 minutes to now just under 7 minutes.

2. That the availability of retained crews has got worse with none of the retained crewed fire engines in the Chichester District Council area now achieving 100% availability.

3. That last year the East Wittering crew, that used to be one of the best for availability, was only available for less than half the time (47%). So people who needed help in the Witterings had a less than 50/50 chance of seeing that fire engine arrive at their emergency. The unlucky ones would have to wait for a crew from Chichester or from even further away.

4. That the longstanding practice of ensuring that when several fire engines are called out, or cannot be crewed, others are moved in to cover has been drastically reduced. Previously that would have ensured minimum cover of three fire engines in the Chichester District Council area, with one at Chichester, one for the Midhurst/Petworth areas, and one for the Manhood Peninsula. This was recently changed to just one to be available at Chichester.

5. That a significant factor in these problems has been a new contract for retained firefighters that has six different availability options. This strangely includes the same annual payment for firefighters who are only available for 40 hours per week, as it does for those available for 80 hours (see “Become a retained firefighter” on the WSCC website). This is hardly an incentive to be available longer. The new contract was not tested before it was rolled out to all stations, so the problem is now widespread.

6. That fire engines from Hampshire, Surrey and East Sussex are now being called in to the county more often with, presumably, greater costs to the authority.

7. That the new wholetime crewing system, planned for next year, is also an untried and untested one. This means that wholetime crewed fire engines may join the retained ones in also not achieving 100% availability.