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.