Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Pulling together in a time of emergency

Over the weekend the Queen put out a message in which she said, ‘it is difficult to escape a very sombre mood’.

These recent months have been the most sombre I can remember with the country witnessing a series of tragedies.

The fire at Grenfell Tower was one such appalling tragedy and, as the number of deaths increase every day, our sombre mood rightly remains. My heart goes out to all those residents who have lost their lives, their families and all those who are now homeless. It is almost too much to imagine and at this time words seem empty and inadequate.

I remember from our own, too recent, tragedy at Shoreham, that in the darkest and most terrible hour it is our amazing emergency services who are first on the scene and hold us safe in an emergency – selflessly working to help all of us.

The pictures of the incredibly brave fire men and women sitting exhausted taking a few moments break while tackling the Grenfell inferno is an image that will surely stay in all of our minds.

One of the County Council’s guiding principles is that we are there in emergency – and I am so proud and humbled that we have been able to help the London Fire and Rescue Service by sending equipment.

From my observation the Fire and Rescue Services across the land come and work together sharing experience and knowledge when they are needed – seamless collaborative working.

But of course it does not just stop there. We know there are 76 buildings within the county higher than 6 storeys, 51 of these are residential. As I write work with our District and Borough Councils is well underway. Together with our fire service they are completing assessments and will carry on working hard to make sure we can be confident that residents are safe. Of course they are working closely with neighbours in East Sussex and beyond, sharing information and supporting each other.

Much of the work our fabulous fire fighters do is about prevention. Making sure they support us so we don’t need to call them out in an emergency. So I will leave you with this very important question. Do you have a smoke alarm? If you do have you checked it recently? Test it today – just to be sure and help us all, the fire service included, to sleep safely tonight.

Best wishes,


  1. You are quite right that our emergency services pull together in a time of emergency. It is just a shame that you and your colleagues have made it harder for them to do that. If County Councillors pulled together to keep us safe, then the number of firefighters, fire engines and fire stations would not have been cut.

    With fewer firefighters on each fire engine, they have to take more risks, have to work even harder, and will inevitably take longer to carry out the rescue or fight the fire. With a 24% cut in fire crews, fire engines are taking longer to arrive, especially in rural areas and when several crews are neeed. It is not good enough to praise them, whilst failing to provide them with the resources they need.

    It is reassuring that high-rise buildings are now being inspected, but worrying that cuts have seen fewer regular fire safety inspections, especially where multiple lives may be at risk. If politicians learn anything from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I hope it is that more thought is given when considering what may seem like mundane funding decisions. The wrong decisions made in a safe committee room can later have the most tragic consequences for the very people the politicians should be protecting.

    For the record, it is London Fire Brigade, not London Fire and Rescue Service.

  2. Fire services across the county have had to make savings and in West Sussex we haven't been immune to that. However we made sure where savings are made they are about increasing how efficient the service is. We are confident that our fire and rescue service is equipped to keep residents safe in their homes and on the roads. We have plans for investment in our fire service for the future to make sure they continue to be a modern fire service able to respond to the needs of the community.

  3. Well I am grateful for your response, but sadly not at all reassured. Your confidence is quite surprising, as all the evidence following the cuts indicates that the fire and rescue service is now less able to keep residents safe.

    Whilst it is true that County Council funding has been cut by a Government unconcerned with the effect that will have, WSCC still had choices. For political reasons, in previous years, you chose not to raise council tax to protect the fire & rescue service. As Council Leader you cannot pass the buck entirely to the Government.

    I would urge you to reconsider your confidence. The designers of the Titanic were confident it would not sink. The Prime Minister was confident of a massive majority. I also suspect that, if asked a month ago, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea would have said they were confident that the residents of Grenfell Tower were safe in their homes!