At last week’s West Sussex County Council meeting, the Conservatives disgracefully voted down a proposal to review fire & rescue service response times. Councillor Mike Glennon voiced concern that response times were increasing and asked for an independent review. This was supported by Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP Councillors.
Cabinet Member David Barling angrily suggested this was only proposed because it was election year, but Councillors have been asking for greater transparency for over two years.
Mr Barling had promised to publish monthly details of response time failures in 2015, but he has failed to do so. It should also be noted that the proposer of the motion, and two Councillors who spoke in support, are not standing in the May elections.
The election is pertinent though, as it is David Barling who does not want the public to learn the true cost of Conservative cuts to the fire & rescue service. We should not be surprised though. When the Council was petitioned not to cut £1.6 million from the fire & rescue service budget, he callously told Councillors to ignore the 55 extra deaths predicted by their computer modelling.
David Barling also tried to suggest that this was just about the Selsey Academy fire and that firefighters had done their best. Yet, this was a blatant attempt to divert attention from the real problem, which is County wide. None of the Councillors criticised firefighters, indeed they all praised them, but Mr Barling tried to use firefighters as a shield for his failings.
County Council figures show the service is increasingly failing to meet response times, with a 7% increase in failures for life threatening fires since the cuts. Yet these averages hide the worst response times experienced in some areas.
Note: the target is 80%
Astonishingly Mr Barling claimed, “financial cutbacks have got absolutely nothing to do with this, even if they did exist”. Only a fool would believe that closing fire stations and cutting a quarter of the County’s frontline fire engines would not increase response times.
Councillor Andy Petch, who is not standing in May’s elections, said, “the only thing stretched about the claim that West Sussex response targets are stretch targets is the truth, because for nearly two thirds of the County we’ve got a very generous 14 minute target.” He added that, for up to 20% of calls, the response time could be even longer without missing the target (it only requires 80% success).
Councillor Michael Jones said, “across Hampshire the target is 8 minutes, across Devon, Somerset, Kent, Norfolk and Surrey the target is 10 minutes, whilst less than 4% of West Sussex is deemed to deserve a 10 minute response or less”.
Sadly, Councillor Barling and his Conservative cronies only rejected the review to hide evidence that their so called fire & rescue service improvements were actually damaging cuts. A case of preferring to keep West Sussex residents in the dark for their own political self-interest.