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

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