Monday, 14 April 2014

Could a home fire safety check save the life of somebody you know?

At Full Council last Friday, I asked all the County Councillors to help with a personal campaign that I hope that you may be able to support as well.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service do a terrific job. Nowadays they respond to more emergency calls for road traffic collisions than fires, but there are still regular call outs for fires in the home and it’s a fire that started in a kitchen that I wanted to talk to you about. An elderly resident was in the kitchen when her cardigan caught fire with fire tragic results. She was rushed to Hospital to be treated for 44% burns to her upper body; very sadly she died the following day.

Recently an elderly resident, same profile as described earlier, recounted to me that she was preparing a stir fry for her supper, and when she added some ingredients flames shot up from the frying pan, frightened she picked up the frying pan opened the back door and put it outside. She was very lucky if she had slipped or fallen or indeed if there had been a blast of wind blowing in when she opened the door there could have been a very nasty incident.

Regrettably, these are not unique cases. We have had similar incidents over the last couple of years involving elderly people and kitchen fires. In most cases the person was living alone and was not known to our Social Services. Elderly people often spend a lot of their time in the kitchen with some seeing it as the warmest place in the home, but the naked flame from a gas cooker or a hot ring on an electric cooker can be potentially very dangerous. As we get older our reactions can get slower and we can get frightened easily. Sometimes this makes us react in a way that can cause more harm. Since raising this matter at the County Council a couple of Councillors have mentioned near incidents with their close relatives so this is not uncommon.

The Fire Service now does a considerable amount of preventative work and over the last decade their home fire safety visits have been instrumental in reducing the number of people losing their lives in house fires. However, often those elderly residents most needing assistance can be the hardest to identify and reach. ‘Who Cares’ is our Fire Service’s latest home fire safety campaign aimed at protecting our most vulnerable residents.

That’s why I am blogging and campaigning on this issue. If you know of an elderly resident living on their own or indeed have a parent or relative who does please recommend, or better still, arrange a free Home Fire Safety Check for them . A conversation around kitchen safety and the right kind of smoke detection could save a life. You can either call free on 0800 328 6487 or visit

Here are simple steps to a safer home – a useful reminder for us all.

5 simple steps to a safer home:

  • Working smoke alarms save lives! Install one on each level of your home and test them on a weekly basis
  • Stand by your pan! More than half the fires attended by the fire service start in the kitchen so take extra care when cooking
  • Smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires. Extinguish cigarettes carefully and never smoke in bed
  • Unplug appliances when not in use – leaving electrical appliances on overnight or when you are out increases the risk of fire
  • Don’t put anything on heaters or use them to dry clothes. Need advice about paying fuel bills or keeping warm safely? Call Home Heat Helpline FREE on 0800 336699

In the event of a fire in the home get out, stay out and call 999

Best wishes,

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Fighting for the Fund

Over the last year West Sussex County Council has been locally administering the Local Welfare Assistance Fund, not known to many but greatly appreciated by those in receipt of this grant.

So what exactly is the Fund? Hopefully, most people will never need to call upon it, but it has proved a real life saver to many.

The fund helps people when they are going through a really tough patch in their lives and who may only need a very small amount of help to help them get back on their feet.

We were allocated £1.24 million and we administer this through our Local Assistance Network.

Often people in these dire situations have no savings and very limited or no credit and may well have debts they are trying to clear.

Without it there is a very real risk that families in dire circumstances may be forced to seek help from loan sharks.

Through the Local Assistance Network, West Sussex has set up a network of voluntary and community groups who are able to meet urgent need by providing assistance in kind, such as furniture, vouchers for food banks or other household essentials.

Take the case of Tom (not his real name) who has been through alcohol rehabilitation and support from the Stonepillow Charity. When he applied for a grant he was living in Stonepillow’s supported accommodation and was in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance.

Prior to entering rehabilitation, he was in the British Navy for many years. As part of rebuilding his life, Tom started to look for employment. Due to the nature of his skills, he was looking at companies out of the local area. He was offered an interview at a company in Essex.

Stonepillow supported Tom by providing a travel warrant to his job interview and another travel warrant to start employment when he successfully received a job offer. So a small amount of money has given self-esteem back to a man who has beaten his drink problem allowing him back to work and getting control of his life once again.

In another example; James and Kim and their young child were awarded a flat through a Housing Association. Although James is working 40 hours a week he is on a low wage, which is topped up with some benefits - child tax credit, child benefit and working tax credit.

There’s not a lot left at the end of each month, and from this income the couple had to pay a deposit for the property and will be paying monthly rent. To help them avoid falling into debt, Stonepillow helped them set up their new home with a washing machine, wardrobe, armchairs and a chest of drawers.

I could cite many other examples where a relatively small amount of money in kind has made a very large difference to people who are in pretty dire circumstances but are now back on their feet and financially and economically independent.

So I have to admit to being dismayed by the news that the Government is withdrawing this fund, leaving councils, such as West Sussex County Council, facing a potentially difficult decision as to where to find the added costs of helping out families who find themselves in crisis situations.

Fellow councillors and I have been so concerned by this news that we will hopefully be debating this issue following a Notice of Motion being put to the next Full Council meeting on April 11.

We had set up exactly what the Government wanted us to set up and we know it has helped people who needed help at the most vulnerable point in their lives and for whom there will be no other options other than loan sharks who will charge extortionate rates of interest, which could possibly push people back.

It means we will have some unpalatable choices ahead of us in deciding where in our budget the £1.24m sum will come from in future years.

As I have mentioned in many of my blogs over the years, we are very supportive of the Government’s drive to reduce the public debt in the Country, and have certainly done our share in delivering savings.

We are now on the next phase of delivering more than £100 million in savings – and losing this grant is going to be a further considerable burden.

However, it’s not just the burden on our own resources that concerns me. Helping people get back on their feet, building their confidence so they become self-reliant, economically dependent and can look after themselves in the future has to be the right way forward.

For a relatively small amount so much can be achieved and represents real value for money.

This is why we are pressing the Government to revisit its decision, why I am lobbying our local MPs to bring this up in Parliament and why we are supporting the Local Government Association for central funding to continue.

This is a cut too far and I can assure you that over the next few months we at WSCC along with other authorities will not be letting this issue lie dormant. We will continue to raise it at every possible instance.

I am also calling on all of you to help us. So please write to your local MPs and make your views known.

This is a campaign we cannot afford to lose.

Best wishes,

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Celebrating 125 years of West Sussex County Council

This week West Sussex County Council is 125 years old.

It’s fascinating to look back on the rich history of both the council and the county to see how far we have come and what has changed. I highly recommend a visit to our Records Office which holds a wealth of information.

125 years ago the Chairman of the Council was the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. Other members of the authority included The Duke of Norfolk, Earl of March and Lord Leconfield. Our first council meeting was on April 4, 1889.

It’s a very different Council I lead today, there are no dames, dukes or duchesses in the council chamber and back then we had the job of collecting licences – 7s 6d for a dog licence, 5s for a gun license and 10s for a license to kill and sell game – now long gone.

We have come a long way and I am proud to lead a council that, in its 125th year, is still as strong and focussed as the day it was formed in 1889.

Our purpose remains the same today as it was 125 years ago. To serve the people of West Sussex and represent our Division at County Hall.

We support people from the start of life to the end of life, delivering services that touch people’s lives day in day out – often without people even realising it.

We are very clear about our three key priorities Start of Life, The Economy and Later Life, we know West Sussex is a beautiful county which people treasure and enjoy visiting – we have coast countryside and commerce – it is a great county to live rest and work all of which has to be managed.

We have to be there for our residents in an emergency and we have to focus on building strong communities - it’s all about helping people to help themselves.

With the challenging financial landscape we have to make difficult decisions to meet our ambitions in providing value for money services based on good outcomes for our residents. We continue to have to make savings. We have to spend every penny as wisely as our colleagues of more than a century ago had to.

WSCC has been through significant change in the last few years, an evolution, and we know that we continue to evolve and continually adapt and change our way of working as we forge ahead with our plans to provide good value for money services for the future.

In February we approved a £535 million budget and froze council tax for the fourth year running to ensure that we, as an authority, didn’t cost our residents any more. A significantly higher budget than our colleagues of 125 years ago I am sure but look at the challenges we face. We deliver 80% of local government services to a population of more than 800,000 people. We are with people from the start of life to the end, delivering services that touch people’s lives each and every day – a lot of the time without them ever realising.

Roads, potholes and highway maintenance, fire and rescue registration services, libraries, schools and education safeguarding children and ensuring our elderly population are cared for.
The expectations and demands on us far exceed our diminishing income.

We will ensure that we give our children the best possible start in life, that we support the local economy and ensure there are jobs for those children and their parents today, tomorrow and in the future and we will make sure that our elderly residents can enjoy independence and good health and age safely and securely in West Sussex.

We answer to our residents today just as the founders of West Sussex County Council did 125 years ago.

So this year, our 125th year, we will deliver an extra £15 million pounds’ worth of improvements to our extensive road network through our Better Roads campaign. We will invest an extra £30million pounds in education in Worthing including a new secondary school and more school places. Our 125th year will also see us invest an extra £6.25million into our adult social care services, a further £3.3million for our Think Family programme to support West Sussex’s most troubled families and we will make another million pounds available to communities to bid for to fund projects that will help protect them again flooding.

Crawley’s Queen Square will see investment of £1.25million, new and existing businesses and entrepreneurs will be invited to bid for funding from a new pot of £500,000.

Our partnership with the Sussex Energy Saving Partnership will generate 400 new jobs this year and improve energy efficiency in 17000 homes across West Sussex and West Sussex homes will be able to connect to superfast broadband this year as well.

All these investments at no extra cost to the taxpayers of West Sussex and we will still save £65million from the base budget.

So I look at the priorities set by WSCC 125 years ago and I look at the priorities we work towards now. People were at the heart of them then and they are very much at the heart of them now.

Best wishes

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