Sunday, 22 February 2015

Petition grows as public anger grows

The petition is growing with more than 1,000 signatures already. Whilst collecting signatures, using the paper copy of the petition, I have been struck by how upset and angry people are about these cuts.

Many were unaware of the cuts and they are all shocked and appalled that such an essential service is having its ability to respond to their emergencies cut so drastically. Some even mentioned their displeasure at the previous cuts at Bosham, East Preston, Findon, Horley, Keymer and Lancing, and were stunned that more cuts were on the way.

Whilst I have had a few people not sign, because they are in a hurry or think it is a survey, every person who has stopped to listen has signed. Absolutely no one has disagreed with the intentions of the petition. As one lady put it, "who do the fools making these cuts think they are".

Amongst the hundred's of people I have spoken to on this issue, I have only found one person, not connected with the fire service, who had heard about the public consultation. As intended by West Sussex County Council, that person was totally unaware of the predicted extra deaths and property damage. That person had read the consultation document and said it did not 'seem too bad'. They also said that, had they known about the real consequences, they would have written to object.

We all realised that Lionel Barnard's claim that 'everyone in West Sussex knew about it' was ridiculous, but you would have thought I would have found more than one. It perhaps shows how little attention people pay to what they hear on local radio and how few read local newspapers in detail. It certainly shows that the consultation reached very few people and that those it did reach were misled.

Finally, I would also like to share what one of Councillor Barling's constituents thinks of his cuts:
Lives will be lost in wake of cuts
He is of course, absolutely right!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

An open letter to County Councillors

Dear County Councillor,
At last week’s County Council meeting Cabinet Member David Barling helpfully pointed out that, “It is often about what they don’t tell you that you need to focus on”. He is quite correct that there were a number of extremely relevant things that you were not told.
You were told that the changes were developed by a professional team, but you were not told that they were only allowed to come up with changes that also saved £1.6 million pounds. So not the best protection for the people of West Sussex, not fit for the next decade, just the best they could come up with on an inadequate budget. You were also not told that hundreds of professional firefighters say it is wrong.
When Mr Barling mentioned fewer incidents, he did not tell you that the number of incidents has never been a key factor in determining the number or location of fire engines. When West Sussex had 6,000 incidents there were 45 fire engines, yet when there were over 15,000 incidents there were just 46 fire engines. When incidents dropped back to around 10,000, fire engines were cut to 40, and now that incidents are between 9 and 10,000, they will be cut to just 35. Ten less than when far fewer incidents were dealt with.
He did not mention that the key factor  in determining the number and location of fire engines  is response times. When fire engines were cut from 46 to 40, response times went up and West Sussex residents in desperate need now have to wait, on average, 30% longer for help to arrive than those in East Sussex. Further cuts will increase this significantly.
When Mr Barling said that there is a problem with keeping retained firefighters, he did not say that the Deputy Chief Fire Officer has stated this is not a problem. Lee Neale is on record as saying that the retained establishment is continuously monitored and maintained at the appropriate level. He has also said that WSFRS had twice as many applicants as retained firefighter vacancies.
You were not told that some people applying to be retained firefighters have been turned away, even when their local station has crewing problems. This is because the County Council has barred the service from recruiting enough firefighters to properly crew all stations. This has resulted in the ridiculous situation of some stations having 14 firefighters to crew one fire engine round the clock, whilst others have to struggle with just 7.
Mr Barling said that the fire engines being removed were used irregularly by retained firefighters. You were not told that this was because of inadequate crewing levels and that they were actually required much more frequently. Fire engines had to be called from other areas to cover for these crewing failures, which reduced cover in those areas and increased the response times significantly.
Mr Barling even added Horsham to the list, but did not tell you that this fire engine was crewed by wholetime firefighters and attended 626 incidents in 2013/14.
You were not told that experience has shown that when retained stations are cut from two to one fire engine, the availability of the remaining fire engine suffers. This is clearly evidenced by East Preston and Lancing, where the first fire engines were close to 100% availability, but are now only available for 56% and 73% respectively.
You were previously told that the new retained contract would improve firefighter and fire engine availability. You were not told that the contract was untested before being introduced and that it has actually resulted in a dramatic drop in availability.
You were not told that the new wholetime crewing system has not been trialled or tested and that there is no evidence to support the claim that this will not reduce performance.
Mr Barling said that the new ‘super-duper’ 4x4 vehicles will enable ‘our people’ to get off road, but he neglected to say that they already had 4x4 vehicles at those stations and could get off road now. He did not tell you that the so called ‘high tech equipment’ could not in any way replace a proper fire engine. He also neglected to say that a previous new ‘super-duper’ 4x4 vehicle, trialled at Midhurst in the 1970s, proved to be inadequate. There is no evidence that this will be any different.
Mr Barling said that the fire service had listened to the people of Littlehampton and were improving the service they receive (4 minute better response time at night). He did not mention that they did not listen to the people of Bosham, East Preston, Findon, Keymer and Lancing in 2010, and are not listening to the people of Crawley, Horsham, Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington now. All of whom have, or will have to wait longer for help to arrive on many occasions, both day and night.
When Mr Barling mentioned the Horsham fire engine being removed, he did not tell you that this will result in a 4 minute increase in response times in the area both day and night. Worse still, the second fire engine will often not respond at all. It will be crewed by retained firefighters who, in 2013/14, were only available for 52% of the time.
Mr Barling also rather bizarrely claimed that ‘every second, every minute’ the fire authority is moving fire engines around to areas of greatest need. Not only is that a gross exaggeration, but the movements that do take place are not to meet demand, but to areas where inadequate crewing has meant several fire engines are not available. Covering up failures instead of properly resourcing the service.
The most serious omission was that Mr Barling did not tell you that all the national and local evidence shows that these cuts will increase response times, increase deaths and increase property damage. Clearly an increased risk for the public and firefighters and certainly not a service fit for the next decade.
Some of you have opposed these cuts, but for those who have not, it really is time to put your residents’ safety before your party politics.
Yours sincerely,

Tony Morris 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Stubborn County Councillors press on with dangerous cuts

It was disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that at today’s meeting of West Sussex County Council there were more false claims and deception about the fire service. Councillor Michael Jones had submitted an amendment that would have reversed the fire service cuts, but it was voted down.

I also understand that there were written questions submitted to the meeting about the fire service, but we did not get to hear them. They used meeting procedures to first move the written questions further on in the agenda and then excluded them completely, because of ‘a lack of time’. Even shabbier was refusing to allow responses to the written answers at the next meeting.

David Barling, the new Cabinet Member for Resident’s Services, said in his response that it is often about what they don’t tell you that you need to focus on. Well let us do that.

1. When Mr Barling told the meeting that professional fire officers had come up with the changes, he did not say they could only come up with changes that also saved £1.6 million pounds.
2. When he claimed that the Chief Fire Officer rejected his ‘offer’ of having that money back, he did not say it would be professional suicide to accept it.
3. When he tried to justify cutting fire engines to just 35, by saying there were less calls, he did not say that fire engines were only increased by one to 46 when calls increased from 5,000 to over 15,000. He also did not say that, whilst calls have only dropped back to just under 10,000, fire engines have already been cut to just 40.
4. When he said the Water Carrier from Littlehampton, where crewing is not a problem, would move to Petworth, he did not say that when it goes out on calls there will be more occasions when Petworth does not have enough firefighters left to crew their only fire engine.
5. When he said that these were not cuts, but a service for the future, he did not say that in future more people will have to wait longer for the fire service to arrive and firefighters will have to wait longer for assistance.
6. When he said it would not be done if they thought there was a risk, he did not say that all the evidence showed that more lives will be lost and property damage will increase.

Yes, you did get one thing right Mr Barling, we need to focus on what you did not say.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

800 signatures and open letter to County Councillors

Thanks to excellent work by Labour Councillors and supporters in Crawley yesterday collecting paper signatures, and more people signing online the petition has now passed the 800 mark. Not bad for less than two weeks. 

Keep letting people know and remind Firefighters and other WSCC employees that they are allowed to sign the petition and will suffer no repercussions. That is in writing from the Chief Fire Officer and Executive Director Communities and Public Protection.

Ahead of the County Council budget meeting tomorrow I have written to all County Councillors as follows:

"Dear County Councillor,

County Councillors Save Lives could be a headline.  At tomorrow’s County Council meeting you have the opportunity to justify that by rejecting the fire service budget cuts. Do you, like firefighters, have the necessary courage to do that? Councillor Goldsmith has pledged not to bow to party political pressure, so none of you should be disciplined for acting to protect the lives of your constituents.

I can understand that some of you may have been lulled in to a false sense of security by statements from the Cabinet and the Fire & Rescue Service. However, more and more information is coming to light that has been kept from the public, and may well have been kept from you. So before you decide what to do tomorrow, please consider if you have been told, by the former Cabinet Member for Resident’s Services or the Chief Fire Officer, any of the following:

That following previous cuts, West Sussex residents now have to wait, on average, 30% longer for help to arrive than East Sussex residents.

That despite fewer calls, fire deaths in West Sussex have been rising, whilst they have been falling in the rest of the UK.

That some fire engines crewed by retained firefighters are unavailable more than they are available.

That fire stations do not have an approved establishment for retained firefighters, which results in some stations with one fire engine having twice as many firefighters as another. Effectively guaranteeing that the ones with less will often fail to crew their fire engine. There really cannot be any other organisation or business that does not start by determining staffing levels required to meet the ‘business’ need. More wishful thinking than proper management.

That retained fire engine availability dropped 10% in one year (2012/13 to 2013/14) and is now 16% below the West Sussex target (published as 88% in 2011/12).

That WSCC modelling showed that there would be an extra death every other year and £80,000 extra damage every year, as a direct result of the cuts.

That if later claims the modelling may have been wrong were true, it would also mean that the figures used to justify spending over £1 million to improve response times at Littlehampton will also be wrong.

That government and independent research has proven that response times have a direct bearing on lives and property saved. The budget cuts will inevitably result in longer response times to many calls, especially in rural areas.

The people of West Sussex do not deserve front-line cuts to such an essential life saving service. You can stop those cuts, please do.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Several West Sussex online newspapers covering the petition and fire deaths story

Well that is annoying. Several online newspapers in West Sussex are running with the petition and fire deaths story, but the add comments section is not working. 'They are looking in to it'. The comments I wished to add were:

Sadly it is West Sussex County Council that is guilty of taking figures out of context and making misleading claims. Whilst the public is expected to accept figures that they select for publication without question, they immediately criticise anyone who reveals figures they want to keep quiet.
Those who are protesting against these dangerous cuts have only ever used figures available from WSCC or Government departments. They are presented as cold, hard facts. Trying to excuse the high number of deaths, and implying that West Sussex is somehow unlucky is very shabby behaviour.
To save lives I would urge the public to sign the “Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex” petition. You can find it online by searching for ‘West Sussex Epetitions’.
Response times are increasing in West Sussex and on average people have to wait 30% longer for help to arrive than in East Sussex. That is a direct result of previous cuts. Government and independent reviews have proven that when response times increase, more people die and more property damage is caused.
WSCC know, but want to hide, the fact that removing more fire engines and firefighters will cost more lives. Their own assessment of the effect of the cuts showed an extra 55 deaths in 100 years, which equals an extra death every two years. Yet now WSCC spokespersons choose to ignore or dismiss their own figures.
The County Council carried out an inadequate review, a sham consultation, and the changes to the service were not put to the full County Council for approval. The October debate was about using savings to avoid the cuts, and was defeated by just 28 of the 71 County Councillors. Many sneaked off before the vote and all but one Conservative followed the party whip.   
Let’s be clear, these cuts are nothing to do with meeting future needs, just about meeting an inadequate budget. Commuters must breathe a sigh of relief that the County Council is not in charge of the railways. If they were, then there would be fewer trains, with less coaches, and journey times would be longer.
This campaign is supported by most serving firefighters, many retired firefighters, parish and town councils, several County Councillors and the public. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

More false allegations from WSFRS

Well it looks like the knives are out, and that was even before we reached 450 signatures. This item appeared on the East Grinstead Online website - West Sussex Fire and Rescue calls campaign against cuts “misleading”

I have responded, but my comments are 'awaiting moderation', so I have reproduced them here:

The County Council carried out an inadequate review, a sham consultation, and they continue to distort the truth. The WSFRS spokesperson has clearly not read the detailed documents prepared by them for the review. That is where the figure for extra deaths comes from – an extra 55 in 100 years, which equals an extra death every two years.

Those figures were deliberately excluded from the consultation document and hidden in supporting documents. Even County Councillors were misled, as shown by Jim Rae who supposedly carried out a detailed review of the cuts. At the October County Council meeting he stated that the figure was only 3 extra deaths in 100 years. That clearly demonstrated that, either he was not telling the truth, or he was misled. I believe it was the latter.

Every time their figures and Government figures are highlighted, WSFRS falsely allege that ‘they are taken out of context’. That is wholly untrue, details about increasing deaths, fire engines not properly crewed and increasing response times are all very relevant and in context.

Let’s be clear, these cuts are nothing to do with meeting future needs, just about meeting an inadequate budget. I would agree that WSFRS staff are working hard, but they need effective support from the County Council. Without it they are fighting a losing battle and the public suffer as a result.

The County Council and WSFRS spokespersons continue to treat the public with contempt. Common sense says that, if there are less fire engines there will be more times when they take longer to arrive. Government and independent reviews have proven that when response times increase, more people die and more property damage is caused.

This is not my campaign, it is a campaign supported by most serving firefighters, many retired firefighters, parish and town councils, several County Councillors and the public. To save lives I would urge the public to sign the “Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex” petition. You can find it online by searching for ‘West Sussex Epetitions’.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

A brief reminder of the damaging cuts that this petition is aimed at stopping

1. Removing five fire engines from Crawley, Horsham, Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington. It is this that will cost an extra loss of life every other year and an extra £80,000 of property damage every year.

2. Cutting the number of firefighters on every wholetime station, which will seriously reduce their ability to maintain proper crews of five firefighters on fire engines. This will mean that some fire engines will either be unavailable, or will be left with inadequate crews of only four. The number of extra deaths and property damage from this is not known, as WSFRS failed to assess or model this cut.

Anyone who does not understand why crews of four put firefighters and the public at risk should read the FBU Response to Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Services ‘IRMP Proposals for Change’. WSFRS has not complied with national guidance, or Health & Safety risk assessment requirements.

Previous cuts have resulted in the lowest number of fire engines and crews to protect West Sussex since 1939! Fire deaths are increasing in West Sussex, whilst they have been falling nationally. West Sussex has beaten every other fire service in the southeast, including London, by being the worst for deaths per head of population for each of the last two years.

Firefighters need the support of the County Council to reduce these appalling figures, not cuts. Cutting fire engines and firefighters will just make things worse.

Please sign the “Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex” petition. Find it online by searching for ‘West Sussex Epetitions’, and tell your friends, families and work colleagues.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Update and reassurance for Firefighters

The petition is off to a very good start, with over 10% of the signatures required in just one week. Thanks to everyone who has spread the message, but please keep telling friends and family and don’t forget about the Petition Poster in the files section on the Facebook page. This can be printed off and displayed on suitable notice boards. If you are not on Facebook and want a Petition Poster please email me (

Sadly, I have been getting reports that firefighters have been warned not to sign the petition. I want to make it quite clear that there are no restrictions for County Council staff, including firefighters, that prevent them from signing petitions, joining online groups, ‘liking’ Facebook posts etc., when they are off duty. Bear in mind though that comments in online groups should still not be abusive, untrue or reveal properly confidential information.

Where these concerns originated from is not clear, but there is no evidence of any official warnings about the petition, or participation in the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts campaign. This may well have started from uninformed comment. I remember how well the fire service grapevine used to work and how things can quickly become distorted and exaggerated. 

In fact, if any manager was to threaten or even apply informal pressure on this topic, it is they who would be in breach of WSCC policies and liable to disciplinary proceedings.

However, to be absolutely sure I discussed it with a County Councillor. He has now spoken to the Chief Fire Officer who has confirmed that the misleading information is not coming from him or his senior management team and he has said that if any member of staff wants to sign the petition then that is entirely a matter for them.

There is also guidance on the WSCC Intranet for anyone who wishes to know more about where they stand on expressing their personal views on democratic matters. Some senior officers do have some restrictions in relation to certain political activities, but even they can sign petitions. Most employees can exercise exactly the same democratic rights as any other member of the public. 

So please spread the word.

Petition: Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Some coverage with a news item and a letter in the "Chichester Observer". 

The WSFRS response would be laughable if this was not so serious. 

‘The number of fatalities remains low’ – well that’s OK then, we don’t care about a few deaths.

‘Widely consulted on’ – a sham consultation that hid key facts, pretended everything would be rosy, and offered no alternatives.

‘Scrutinised and debated in full’ – the Councillor who “went through the proposals with a fine tooth comb” wrongly thought only 3 extra deaths were predicted, when it was actually 56. No proper debate or vote.

‘Deliberately taking figures out of context and making misleading claims’ – pot calling kettle black, except that, despite trotting this out every time, they have never substantiated their allegations.

‘Continue to show a long-term downward trend’ – 2009/10 UP, 2010/11 UP, 2011/12 UP, 2012/13 UP, 2013/14 UP – who are they trying to kid.

Adapting to meet future need - CUTS

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A timely reminder

If anyone needs a reminder of what this campaign is about, take a few minutes to watch this video. 

Fires like this are just as likely in West Sussex as they are in Paris. These people were all rescued because well trained and well equipped firefighters arrived on properly crewed fire engines very quickly. 

West Sussex County Council cuts will ensure that fewer firefighters will take longer to arrive. That is madness.

Paris Firemen Rescue Eight Parisians from Fiery Inferno on Rue de la Huchette

Petition update

Thanks to everyone who has signed and promoted the petition to their friends, families and work colleagues. It is early days, but we are already approaching 200 signatures. I am sure that will pick up once the main publicity is out there and as more people talk about it. A lot of work is going on behind the scenes.

A couple of issues have arisen. I have been told that WSCC has had a number of people who registered to sign, but have not confirmed their signature with the link they are sent. This is usually because the email has ended up in their spam or junk email folder. They say this is a particular problem with those using Apple products that have higher security settings. If you have not had the email, please check your spam or junk folder.

They also tell me they have had a few signatures with a postcode outside West Sussex. I am very grateful for any support and my view is that, as they may visit or travel through West Sussex, they should be able to comment on cuts that will affect their safety. However, the current rules exclude non-West Sussex signatures from the total, so please use a West Sussex postcode whenever possible, e.g. work or college/university address.

Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Cabinet Member responsible for the cuts leaves the Cabinet

The latest news regarding the dangerous fire service cuts in West Sussex is that Cabinet Member Lionel Barnard has left the Cabinet. No information on whether he was pushed or if he jumped.

In addition, the only Conservative Councillor to vote against the cuts, Andy Petch, has resigned from the Conservative Group on WSCC and will now sit as an independent. Good for him, putting public safety before political ambition.

Please remember to sign the Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex petition

Monday, 2 February 2015

West Sussex tops both Fire Death & Fire Casualty tables again

So much for all the false reassurances about prevention being the answer, which they have been saying for years now. Prevention and response are both needed, yet West Sussex County Council have cut both.

West Sussex has had the most fire deaths and injuries, per head of population, of any area in the south-east, including London, for the second year running! Previous cuts are coming home to roost, more are just not acceptable.