Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Was County Council Leader really ignorant?

This news release was issued today: 

West Sussex County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith last night failed to properly answer questions on the Council’s double-dealing over Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service’s cuts.

At the Chichester South CLC meeting, retired firefighter Tony Morris referred to Councillor Goldsmith’s previous insistence that West Sussex would not make any comment on the Hampshire cuts. Yet the Hampshire Fire Authority consultation report clearly shows that, not only did West Sussex comment, they actually endorsed the cuts.

Mr Morris asked if the meeting had been deliberately misled in September, or had the Chief Fire Officer ignored Councillor Goldsmith’s policies and instructions. Councillor Goldsmith’s dismissive response was, “at the time we weren’t going to respond, but we did and we are where we are with that”.

The West Sussex submission expressed concerns about increased response times and a less effective response in parts of West Sussex, west of Chichester and Midhurst. Mr Morris also asked, “what action are Councillors going to take to fill the gap in West Sussex fire cover that the Hampshire cuts will now create?”

In her reply Councillor Goldsmith ignored that question. It was only after County Councillor Sandra James criticised the Leader for not giving a proper answer that Councillor Goldsmith agreed that a letter would be sent to Mr Morris.

After the meeting, Tony Morris said, “Councillor Goldsmith’s response was unconvincing. I cannot accept that she was ignorant of her Chief Fire Officer’s support for the Hampshire cuts. Especially as, shortly after she insisted they would not comment, a West Sussex officer was sent on a six month secondment to help Hampshire promote their cuts. It is also extremely worrying that the Chief Fire Officer seems more concerned with supporting a colleague in another County, than he is about protecting the residents of West Sussex.”

Monday, 14 March 2016

PCC apology and "super duper" 6x6 fiasco continues

Well credit to Katy Bourne, the Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner, who has now replied to my email. She has apologised for the delay in replying and for getting the information on the Sussex Fire Control wrong.

Just goes to show that, unlike those at WSCC, there are some Conservatives with the integrity to apologise when they get it wrong.

I wonder when David Barling will apologise for his "super duper" 6x6? Latest reports suggest that even after a significant rebuild it is still a disaster. Not overweight on the front axle, now the water tank has been moved, but overweight on the rear axles!

Someone within WSCC or WSFRS should be held responsible for this expensive fiasco.

Photo courtesy of W H Bence

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Can West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service management be any more stupid?

I had thought that it would be difficult for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service management to appear any more stupid with their efforts to avoid proper scrutiny, but it appears that they can. Regular visitors to this blog will be aware that even promises made to County Councillors to publish incident performance data have been broken. 

Now a group of people has submitted Freedom of Information requests for incident data for the years 2010-2015 to Fire & Rescue Services across the UK. Not sure who they are, but it is probably an academic research project. So far, at least ten Fire & Rescue Services have provided the information and London Fire Brigade has told them that their information is already publicly available on-line from the London Datastore.

So how do West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service respond? They refuse the request, because 'it would threaten national security'. A quite outrageous attempt to misuse the legitimate exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act to withhold information that should be in the public domain.

If there was any substance in the claim, then they would be saying that the at least ten Fire & Rescue Services who have already provided this data have put our national security at risk. Or perhaps they stupidly think that West Sussex is more security sensitive than Essex, Hampshire, Humberside, Lancashire, London, Staffordshire, and West Yorkshire. Neither is the case of course.

Louise Goldsmith insists that West Sussex County Council is open and transparent and David Barling denies that their Fire & Rescue Service is secretive. Well it is time they did something about West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service regularly proving their statements to be untrue.

They should look at the London Fire Brigade example, where detailed incident data is provided on-line and updated monthly. No need for any Freedom of Information Act requests in their case. They say, “we publish this information to assist the public in accessing details of the incidents attended by the London Fire Brigade”. It also saves them an enormous amount of time dealing with requests for incident data.

WSFRS’s desperate attempts to cover up their deteriorating performance have clearly sunk to a new low with this latest irresponsible abuse of the Freedom of Information Act.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner's false Fire & Rescue Service claims

It appears that Katy Bourne, the Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner who is keen to take over the Fire & Rescue Services in Sussex, is in her own fantasy World. In a newsletter last month, she said:

"In Sussex, the two fire services already have a joint centre in Haywards Heath that handles 999 calls. This has saved £4m over 5 years and led to better attendance times and improved coordination of resources across the county."

Well that is pretty amazing for a ‘joint centre’ that has been operational for less than two years! As for her ‘better attendance times’, the last published figures showed that response times for house fires increased in West Sussex by 13%  and in East Sussex by 14%. For fires in other buildings the increase in East Sussex was 16%, and for outdoor fires in West Sussex it was 17%.

Of course there is also no evidence of 'improved coordination of resources', something the previous separate controls did exceptionally well. I wrote and asked her to correct her false statements, but despite her claim to reply within 14 working days, I have heard nothing. 

Fortunately, both the Labour (Michael Jones) and Liberal Democrat (James Walsh) candidates are on record as not supporting Fire & Rescue Services being taken over by Police & Crime Commissioners.

Katy Bourne should focus on the many challenges facing the Police, instead of trying to expand her empire. The two services have different functions, procedures, training and responsibilities, and their independence is vital. Both the Police and the Fire & Rescue Service will suffer if they are forced in to an arranged marriage, and it is the public who will pay the ultimate price.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Can we believe anything that the Fire & Rescue Services and Fire Authority Members say?

Warning that lives could be put at risk amid cuts to firefighters on county border

A fire crew demonstates the use of new equipment

A fire crew demonstrates the use of new equipment (The News)

First we have Louise Goldsmith, Leader of the West Sussex Fire Authority, saying that West Sussex would not comment on the Hampshire proposals, 'because we just don't do that'. Within weeks a West Sussex officer is seconded to Hampshire and is actively supporting their cuts at public meetings. Then West Sussex not only formally comment on the proposals, but supports them.

This was done even though, in their comments, they said that they were concerned about reductions in the attendance from Hampshire, and about INCREASED response times in West Sussex. Now we have Gary Towson, who is not a spokesman for West Sussex firefighters, but a spokesman for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, miraculously claiming that response times will improve!

It seems that instead of reflecting West Sussex concerns, Mr Towson is speaking on behalf of the Hampshire Fire Authority. I would urge him not to repeat the deception being perpetrated by Hampshire. You cannot legitimately compare the current response times for a properly equipped fire engine and four firefighters, with the response time for a poorly equipped, converted van and just two firefighters. Two firefighters who cannot carry out rescues and will struggle to tackle anything more than a dustbin fire.

As for the Hampshire Fire and Rescue spokeswoman's comments, the technology is not new and is only of limited value. It may look good at carefully staged demonstrations, but many real fires require adequate numbers of firefighters, not gimmicks. There are even four firefighters shown in the demonstration photograph, who are actively engaged in firefighting or providing safety cover! 

The concept is untried, untested and unsafe! Response times have already increased and the Hampshire cuts will see further significant increases for an effective response in both Hampshire and West Sussex.