Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Cabinet Member "hasn't got a clue"

At last week's West Sussex County Council meeting, Cabinet Member David Barling answered one question by saying, "I haven't got a clue". That seems to sum up his lax approach to questions on our fire & rescue service. He also failed to listen to the question properly, so his snide response was also inept. 

I thought it was about time readers heard how David Barling responds to legitimate questions and concerns from fellow County Councillors, so here is a recording with some photos of the people speaking. The questioner is Bernard Smith, County Councillor for Selsey.


You can watch the whole meeting on the West Sussex County Council website. This item is at 4.25.00 on that recording.

David Barling said, "I know what I am doing about Selsey", but failed to give any detail. Whilst the fire & rescue service has taken some action, there is no evidence that the Cabinet Member has done anything. It is time he told us exactly what personal action he has taken to deal with the part-time firefighter crisis at Selsey and across the County. If not, then he is admitting his abject failure.

You will also notice that, despite responsibility for the fire & rescue service in West Sussex resting with the Cabinet Member, David Barling tries to infer that the questioner has some responsibility. Sadly, that was nothing more than a cheap political trick, designed to deflect attention from his own failures.

Inaccurate and misleading information

In replies to written questions from Councillors, the Cabinet Member again gave inaccurate and misleading information. His reply to Councillor Andy Petch claimed that there were 10 fire engines at the Selsey Academy fire by 08:44, but the incident log shows only 7 had arrived by that time. It was actually 09:36 when the 10th fire engine arrived, some 52 minutes later than claimed. 

He then claims that all 14 fire engines were there by 10:35, but again that is wrong, as the 14th actually arrived at 10:48. The first emergency call was made at 07:52 and the arrival times of all the fire engines, as shown in the official incident log, were as follows:

It really is getting very difficult to believe anything the Cabinet Member says

Councillor James Walsh asked about a previous inaccurate answer from the Cabinet Member. In his reply he said that his answer referred to "responses into Bourne from Emsworth". If that was true, then why did he say, “Hampshire Fire & Rescue don’t actually come a great deal into West Sussex; approximately it’s about 50 times every year”? Perhaps he thinks other County Councillors do have access to a crystal ball, so that they can see what he is thinking whilst he is saying something completely different.

It is also interesting that he claims to have fire & rescue service statistics for a County Council Division, but has previously refused to provide Councillors with that level of detail on the grounds it would take too much officer time to prepare it.

Inferior Response Targets

Another written question from James Walsh asked, "The target response times in West Sussex for the Fire and Rescue Service to arrive at critical fires is set at 8-14 minutes, with a requirement to achieve that in at least 80% of cases. In similar rural counties the following targets are set, which apply to ALL locations in those fire service areas. Hampshire - 8 minutes; Kent, Norfolk, Surrey, Devon and Somerset - 10 minutes; in Suffolk and Oxfordshire - 11 minutes. Is the Cabinet Member happy that we have lower target figures than other similar counties, and that the latest figures show that 25% of incidents wait more than 13 minutes in West Sussex?

One of his excuses is that differing geography makes a difference. It is difficult enough to believe that any differing geography between West Sussex and Hampshire would make that much difference, but Devon & Somerset's geography should make it far more difficult for them to achieve their response targets. Yet the West Sussex maximum target response time is 40% longer than in Devon & Somerset.

So it does seem that the Cabinet Member is happy that West Sussex has inferior response targets and is also failing to achieve them.