I had hoped to watch the live broadcast of the County Council meeting on Friday, but apparently there was a technical problem and they did not broadcast it. I have however had some feedback on the meeting from various people.
I was particularly interested in the meeting as the agenda included a motion on keeping control of the Fire & Rescue Service and opposing government plans to pass control to the Police & Crime Commissioner. It appears that even the Conservative Councillors realise the proposals are ridiculous.
Councillors were also shown Midhurst’s new fire engine and the new 6x6 vehicle. No doubt they were told how wonderful the vehicles were and of course they would not know anything different, just that these were two shiny new vehicles. I am sure the Scania fire engine is fine, but I suspect it is the biggest fire engine ever allocated to Midhurst. The extra water and equipment will I am sure prove useful, but there are a lot of narrow roads on their patch, which may create problems. As for the 6x6, well for an ill-conceived, poorly planned vehicle that is unlikely to perform any of its various roles well, I am sure it looked clean.
Worryingly it seems that Cabinet Member David Barling thinks that availability in the Mid Sussex area is good. Councillor Andy Petch had submitted a request for some statistics about fire cover in his area. That ‘good’ availability only averages 94% for 3 of the 8 fire engines (one each at Burgess Hill, East Grinstead and Haywards Heath). For the other five fire engines the average is just 42%. So unlike other parts of West Sussex, not one with 100% availability. Goodness only knows how bad things would have to get for Mr Barling to think there was a problem.
It also appears that they could not answer some questions for lack of records and others took a very long time to compile. Bearing in mind that this was basic performance information, you have to ask if the Council is monitoring the fire & rescue service at all. One of the big issues recently has been fire engines being moved to other areas for standby, because of crewing problems. Clearly when they are retained (part-time) crewed pumps there is a significant cost, but they clearly do not monitor that cost, because they have no records of those standbys.
At the February meeting Councillors were told, in written answers, that availability and response time failures would be published monthly. They have not been and perhaps the answers, and non-answers, that Councillor Petch received gives a clue to their reluctance to publish them. Not only are the availability figures poor, but it seems that just in the Mid Sussex area over six months, there have been ten failures to meet the response times for critical fires and fifteen failures for critical special services. There have also been 35 requests for East Sussex appliances to attend incidents in Mid Sussex.
No wonder they don’t like people asking questions.
Incidentally, this is what they are replacing the Land Rover at Midhurst with. The Land Rover they use to go off road, to access narrow paths, to negotiate tight turns, to cross uneven ground, to cross light weight bridges etc. I cannot see this doing it anywhere near as well as the Land Rover or the Steyr Puch Super G's currently in service.