Thursday, 21 July 2016

Why I believe West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service should remain with us

There are some things that stay with you throughout life. For me, one of them is if you truly believe in something and know it to be right, it’s a cause worth standing up and speaking for.

That’s why I am really looking forward to our Fire and Rescue Service Debate at our full council meeting tomorrow (Friday). Back in 2011 there were talks between East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to explore merging to become one county wide service.

We had looked at it previously and, yes, there were some merits. But in the end, because of a technical tax matter that could not be resolved by Government, the merger never proceeded.

But we didn’t just carry on as before. At the time we were developing our community work and we seized an opportunity to do something different.

We incorporated our Fire and Rescue Service into the heart of our county council to help us make a positive difference to residents’ lives -  not just in the way we responded to 999 calls but in the work we could do directly with communities and residents around prevention of fires and accidents in the first place.

They were already doing a fantastic piece of work helping communities to protect themselves against flooding (for which we have become one of the leading examples in the country), why not expand and develop?

That’s exactly what we have be doing so successfully over the last 3 years. So now our Fire and Rescue Service are totally integrated into the day to day work of the council – indeed the fire service sits at the heart of our Communities and Public Protection Directorate.

Of course we will always be there for people in times of need, but the service now works directly with communities preventing fires and accidents, making them stronger, safer and more resilient.

Fire crews and officers also work across our towns and parishes identifying older residents who are isolated so that they can get the support they need to stay independent.

They work with Trading Standards to help address the growing problem of scams, provide schemes to help young people in times of trouble, carry out thousands of home fire safety checks every single year to keep people safer in their homes and visit hundreds of schools.

And, while we might not have merged with East Sussex five years ago, we have continued to work with our colleagues across the border exploiting opportunities to become more efficient. We now have a joint emergency Contact Centre that covers East and West Sussex – the fact that it’s shared and jointly run has meant a good saving for East and West Sussex residents whilst still providing a really good service. We continue to drive out further savings for our tax payers through collaborative work.

But the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has informed us she will commission a business case to look at whether there’s a case to take over the running of our fire and rescue service.

For me, the bigger and most important business case is for the communities we serve, the communities we care for, the helping hand that we give, the reassuring word, the advice we give which helps our residents every day. That’s the business case I believe is right and that’s the one I think we should all stand up for.

I have been so privileged and humbled by seeing close up the dedicated work that our Fire and Rescue Service does in so many ways across the County.

I have seen the difference they make – and that’s why I believe and will continue to make the case that West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service remain at the heart of your County Council.

That’s the subject of our debate at Full Council tomorrow. You can watch it live here.

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