Wednesday, 27 April 2016

More false figures from West Sussex Cabinet Member David Barling

 Chichester Observer


This headline appeared online today, and was based on Cabinet Member David Barling’s statement at the recent County Council meeting. He claims to take a particular interest in fire & rescue and said that, based on his own knowledge, Hampshire fire crews only come in to West Sussex “about 50 times a year”.

Cabinet Member David Barling misleading Councillors

Well, either ignorantly or deliberately, he was very wrong. Official figures, used to calculate payments to Hampshire, show they come in to West Sussex many more times than he claimed:

The last published figures show:

2011/12 – 168 incidents
2012/13 – 138 incidents
2013/14 – 134 incidents

Later figures have not been published, but West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service confirmed that the Emsworth crew alone responded to 55 incidents in West Sussex during 2014-15. Emsworth firefighters also say that, in addition, they were called on to standby at West Sussex fire stations nearly 20 times.

Add in the responses from other Hampshire stations, plus standby calls, and the figures for 2014-15 must be in the region of three times a week. Given the cuts in West Sussex, this figure may well be greater as time goes on.

It was also quite shocking that David Barling tried to pretend that Hampshire responses were not worth worrying about, as they were “mostly things like dustbin fires”. Hampshire crews have attended as first response to a number of serious road crashes and fires, and also as support at larger incidents in Bognor Regis, Chichester, Oving, Selsey and West Wittering. 

It does not matter if Councillor Barling misled his fellow Councillors, the press and the public deliberately or ineptly, he owes them all an apology. It is also high time that he agreed to allow a cross party group of Councillors to review the many concerns about the fire & rescue service he claims to know so much about.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Secret West Sussex & Unprofessional Fire Service Opinion

West Sussex County Council seem intent on becoming ever more secretive. At last Friday’s County Council meeting it became clear that the public and press can no longer see which way Councillors vote. Under the guise of ‘modernisation’, instead of raising their hands to vote, Councillors now press a button. Not only has this become a secret vote, but how can anyone be sure the voting is not rigged.

County Councillor Sandra James asked about the Council’s response to the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service cuts consultation – you remember, the one the Council Leader said they would not be commenting on. She also asked how they analysed the impact of the Hampshire cuts on West Sussex before submitting their views.

She was told that the Council did not respond, but the Fire & Rescue Service did. So despite the responsibility for fire cover in West Sussex resting with Councillors (they are the Fire Authority), they had no say in the official response that was put together in secret.

They claim this was a “professional opinion” from the F&RS, but exactly how professional was it?

The reply said that “on many occasions, a crew of two will be perfectly adequate”. Yet WSF&RS has previously carried out a detailed professional analysis to determine the absolute minimum number of firefighters to safely and effectively deal with any incident. The result - FOUR firefighters!

Councillor James also asked how much longer it will take to get four firefighters to minor calls and nine firefighters to building fires, as determined by the analysis. They claim to have carried out ‘what if’ modelling scenarios, including estimated attendance times, but refused to give any details.

They refused to provide Councillor James with previous response times to the area, as they said it would take too long to compile. Not only more secrecy, but it also means they have no base level for comparison.

Most telling of all, they admitted they don’t “have a full understanding of the mobilisation criteria, vehicle equipment and capabilities that HFRS are proposing.” 

Their so called ‘professional opinion’ is not only lacking any evidence to support it, but it also contradicts their detailed professional analysis on minimum crewing. 

So why did the Chief Fire Officer support the Hampshire cuts? Perhaps he would rather blindly support a fellow Chief Fire Officer, instead of prioritising the safety of people in West Sussex.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

House of Commons unhappy with the running of our Fire & Rescue Services

Not only do West Sussex County Council continue to show how inept and devious they are, but it seems our Members of Parliament finally have concerns about local governance, accountability, value for money and service standards! First, the latest example of inaccurate and evasive WSCC behaviour, followed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report on the fire and rescue service.

West Sussex County Council 

This is how the minutes of the Chichester South County Local Committee meeting inaccurately report my concerns and questions, and below is what I actually said. No excuse, as I gave them a written copy of what I said at the end of the meeting. Needless to say, I have yet to receive the promised written response.

Minutes - "Mr Tony Morris, a Chichester resident, raised his concern that the review by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s may impact on service cover in West Sussex, and asked why an undertaking given at the last meeting that the County Council would not comment on other authorities consultations had not been adhered to. Louise Goldsmith undertook to arrange to have a written response provided."

What I said - "At the September meeting concerns were raised about the proposed Hampshire fire service cuts. Councillor Goldsmith told us, quite emphatically, that West Sussex would not make any comment on the proposals, “as we just don’t do that”.
Yet within days, one of her officers had been seconded to Hampshire for six months and was helping them to promote the cuts. He even attended the public meeting at Emsworth where he misled the meeting on the effect of those cuts.
Then, when the Hampshire consultation report was published, it clearly showed that West Sussex did formally comment on the cuts. The submission said that they had concerns about increased response times and a less effective response in parts of West Sussex. Yet incredibly, West Sussex supported the Hampshire cuts.
So I have two questions. First, could we be told if this meeting was deliberately misled at the September meeting, or is this yet another example of the Chief Fire Officer ignoring Councillor Goldsmith’s policies and instructions?
Secondly, what action are Councillors going to take to fill the gap in West Sussex fire cover that the Hampshire cuts will now create? Before answering, I would respectfully remind Councillors that you are the Fire & Rescue Authority and that the law requires you to provide an effective fire & rescue service, not the Chief Fire Officer."

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report on the financial sustainability of fire and rescue services.

Key conclusions:

1. Central government does not have a strong understanding of the potential impacts of future funding reductions on fire and rescue services

2. Reductions in funding are forcing local consideration of mergers but there is no clear plan centrally about whether these will be cost effective, deliver better outcomes, or be possible because of legal and financial hurdles

3. On the possibility of collaboration between fire authorities and police forces, the DCLG was clear that collaboration between ‘blue-light’ services did not mean fully merged services but only ‘aligning overall oversight’.

4. While the expansion of fire fighter activities beyond their statutory roles has potential to benefit vulnerable groups, it is not yet clear to what extent such projects represent value for money.

5. The strength of local governance and accountability is variable, posing risks for the local maintenance of value for money and service standards.

6. The lack of an independent inspectorate creates the risk that scrutiny of fire authorities will be inconsistent, and that oversight exercised by the Department will be incomplete

7. The Department did not provide Parliament with sufficiently rigorous assurance on the standards and sustainability of fire and rescue authorities

Saturday, 9 April 2016

April 2016 Fire Cuts Update

Items covered
One of Eddie Howland's superb images
showing West Sussex firefighters at work
  1. Deceitful West Sussex Support for Hampshire Fire Cuts.
  2. Has Murphy’s Law scuppered Mr Barling’s ‘Super-duper’ 6x6?
  3. Appeal Decisions Show Cabinet Member’s Claim of Openness is False.
  4. Hampshire cuts detail.
  5. County Councillors can’t get details on your Fire & Rescue Service.
  6. Worst ever response times.
  7. Government want Police & Crime Commissioners to take over Fire & Rescue Service.
  8. Real statistics.
  9. Petition thank you & Councillor investigation refused.
  10. Real firefighters care.

Deceitful West Sussex Support for Hampshire Fire Cuts

Last September County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith insisted that West Sussex would not make any comment on the Hampshire cuts. Yet within weeks a West Sussex officer had been seconded to Hampshire for six months to help them promote their cuts. Then the Hampshire consultation report clearly showed that, not only did West Sussex comment, they actually supported the cuts.

Were we deliberately misled in September, or did the Chief Fire Officer ignore the Leader’s policies and instructions? The Leader’s subsequent lame excuse for this - “at the time we weren't going to respond, but we did and we are where we are”.

The West Sussex submission even stated concerns about increased response times and a less effective response in parts of West Sussex, west of Chichester and Midhurst. Councillor Goldsmith refused to give any assurance that Councillors will now take action to fill the gap created by the Hampshire cuts.

"Concerns within West Sussex - increases in response times; and changes in the number of 
firefighters and type of equipment" (Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service Consultation Report)

Most Hampshire fire engines near the border are to be replaced with converted vans, often carrying just two firefighters. Yet, task analysis shows at least four firefighters are needed for safe operations at all incidents.

Has Murphy’s Law Scuppered Mr Barling’s ‘Super-duper’ 6x6?

In 2014, when residents expressed concerns about losing the second fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington, they were told that much improved light, off road vehicles ‘would be in place’ before the cuts. Cabinet Member David Barling even talked about ‘super-duper’ vehicles, so where are they? 

Previous and existing light off road vehicles

The not very light 'super-duper' replacement (W H Bence photo)

Well the ‘super-duper’ 6-wheel drive version is reported to first have been overweight on the front axle and then, after re-building, overweight on the rear axle.

Is Murphy’s Law to blame, or is it the result of a poorly conceived idea, with inadequate research, and no business case, combined with poor project management?

All the indications suggest the latter, but WSCC is refusing to release all the information on the project. How much this fiasco has cost West Sussex residents has not been disclosed.
Murphy’s Law (if it can go wrong, it will go wrong)

Appeal Decisions Show Cabinet Member’s Claim of Openness is False

Cabinet Member David Barling has claimed that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service ‘prides itself on its openness’. Yet decisions by the Information Commissioner and the General Regulatory Chamber show that he is wrong.

Two Freedom of Information appeal decisions, regarding WSF&RS, have confirmed that the County Council failed to comply with the legislation. A decision on a third is awaited.

"the Council did not properly apply section 12", "section 16 had not been complied with"

"It did not seem to us that the Council’s estimate had been shown to be reasonable"

"The Council must disclose all information held by it which falls within the Appellant’s refined request"

Even more astonishing was the Council’s response to a FOI request submitted by someone to all fire & rescue services. Dozens of them happily provided the information and London Fire Brigade even make theirs available on the internet. Yet WSF&RS refused to provide it and claimed that it would "threaten national security".

A ridiculous claim. The more likely reason is their paranoia about releasing any data that will confirm WSF&RS’s deteriorating performance.

Hampshire Cuts Detail

All border stations, except Havant, are staffed by part-time firefighters, yet there will be 24 less of them. Proper fire engines (minimum crew 4) being lost are:

Horndean – their fire engine will be replaced with an Intermediate Vehicle. This is a smaller fire engine that carries less water, equipment and firefighters (minimum crew 2).

Emsworth, Grayshott, Liphook - their fire engines will be replaced by First Response Vehicles (minimum crew 2). These carry even less water, equipment and firefighters than the Intermediate Vehicle.

Waterlooville, Petersfield, Havant – One proper fire engine kept, with the second one at each station being replaced with a First Response Vehicle (minimum crew 2).

Claims about new technology are exaggerated. It won’t save your life and is of no use at most incidents – you need at least 4 firefighters!

WSF&RS Task Analysis - used to assess the minimum number of firefighters
needed at incidents, just to enable essential, simultaneous tasks to be carried out safely. 
No incident type required less than four firefighters. 
Building fires required not less than nine firefighters

County Councillors Can’t Get Details on Your Fire & Rescue Service

In February 2015, Councillors James Walsh and Michael Jones submitted questions on the service’s performance. They were told that the information would be provided monthly, but none has been published.

They asked for information about response times not being met, part-time firefighter availability falling below target and when less than 28 fire engines are available. Something County Councillors should monitor and information that should be available to the public.

They were also told that details of fire stations responding to calls would be restored to the incident newsletter on the Council’s website. Although this was initially done, within months they stopped providing any details at all on the WSCC website.

County Councillor Andy Petch asked for performance information affecting the residents he represents. Astonishingly, he was accused of wasting officer time!

Worst Ever Response Times

House fires 13% worse - Outdoor fires 17% worse

(Increased Response Time change for first fire engine 2013-14 to 2014-15)

Government figures released last year show that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service now has the worst response times in the south-east. Other fire & rescue service response times have deteriorated, but West Sussex, which once had the best response times, is now the worst.

The figures are average times for the arrival of the first fire engine. Yet the response time in many rural areas, and for second fire engines, appear to have increased significantly. Those response times have not been published.

Government Want Police & Crime Commissioners
to Take Over Fire & Rescue Service

This is the latest piece of nonsense from the Government that is likely to lead to further cuts. The idea is not supported by evidence and is just based on very naïve and seriously flawed ideas.

The police and the fire & rescue services necessarily have different functions, training, procedures, vehicles, IT, control rooms and location requirements. They do work together from time to time, and their procedures for doing so are effective, but most of their work does not involve the other service.

Police & Crime Commissioners are fully occupied in monitoring the police. They cannot take on the same role for fire & rescue without reducing their effectiveness at monitoring the police.

The system is also heavily dependent on the effectiveness of the individual. Some PCCs have been ineffective and putting them in charge of fire & rescue would be a disaster for both services.

With PCC elections in May it is worth mentioning that Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in Sussex are on record as saying that they would not seek control of your fire & rescue service.

What is particularly worrying about these plans is that West Sussex County Council's mismanagement of the fire & rescue service only serves to help the Government’s case. If it is to be stopped, Louise Goldsmith and David Barling need to start running our fire & rescue service properly.

"The PCC webcasts her monthly Performance & Accountability Meetings with the Sussex Police Chief Constable. 
These meetings are an opportunity for the Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable to account
on behalf of the public  in an open and transparent way" (Sussex PCC website)
We can see and hear the Sussex PCC question the Chief Constable, but the meetings between the Chief Fire Officer and the Cabinet Member are held in secret. That is not effective scrutiny, accountability or monitoring of performance?

The National Audit Office also voiced concern last year - "The fire sector is different from other emergency services in not having an external inspectorate". Regarding local scrutiny they said, "There are shortcomings in these local arrangements", and "councillors generally lack independent technical support".
Real Statistics

There has been a lot of misleading spin about fewer calls. If you look at actual figures for the two incident types that most threaten life, and over a longer period, you will see a very different reality. These are ten year averages for the 1980s and for the last ten years in West Sussex.
Fires in the Home

Much smaller reduction than they claim
Road Traffic Collisions

More than doubled
Fire Engine Cuts

24% fewer fire engines available

Petition Thank You & Councillor Investigation Refused

Thank you to all who signed the petition against cuts to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, and to those who worked so hard collecting signatures. Nearly 4,000 people signed, which prompted a County Council debate.

Sadly, Cabinet Member David Barling insulted petitioners by dismissing their concerns as ‘disinformation’. Most of the information supporting the petition was official County Council information, so either that was official disinformation, or he was just resorting to bluff and bluster.

Most despicable was his callous disregard for those who will die as a result of the cuts. Council research predicted an extra death every other year, information that they tried to hide. Now Mr Barling simply told Councillors to “put it out of your heads”.

That's a disgusted me having to listen to Cabinet Member David Barling 
disgracefully telling County Councillors to put extra deaths "out of your heads"

Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP Councillors all voiced serious concerns, but the ruling Conservatives arrogantly ignored a proposal from Independent County Councillor Andy Petch for a Councillor Task Group to investigate. 

Only those with something to hide would oppose a proper investigation!

Conservative cuts and mismanagement have resulted in a rapidly deteriorating service. Poor fire engine availability, increased response times, training deficiencies and inadequate crewing are just some of the problems. Cutting fire crews by a quarter meant that this was sadly inevitable.

Mr Barling owes residents an apology for his disgraceful and disrespectful comments during the debate, and for covering up the service’s deteriorating performance.

Rest assured, we will continue to speak out on behalf of those who genuinely care about their fire & rescue service.

Real Firefighters Care

Despite cuts to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, firefighters still work hard to help everyone. They are disillusioned with a lack of support from County Councillors and the Government, but when you are in trouble they will still do their utmost to help you. You can always rely on those firefighters who arrive on fire engines to help you – eventually!

Will rescue arrive in time? It did here - just.

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