West Sussex Labour councillors push county fire service cuts decision to full council debate

Labour county councillors are challenging Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council over its decision to further cut the Fire and Rescue service in the county, by putting forward a motion for debate at the next Full Council calling on the cuts to be abandoned.  Instead of the decision being made by only one councillor, all councillors will have to vote on whether they support the cuts. 

Labour councillors have stepped up the pressure on the council because of public concern and objections from some firefighters that the cuts are likely to put residents and fire crews at increased risk.

The Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services Lionel Barnard (Con, Henfield) approved a decision last week on behalf of the county council to make further cuts to West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services.

  • The Tory controlled county council had announced that it intends to implement a further £1.6 million of cuts this year on top of £2.5 million already cut in 2012;
  • This will include four fire engines (in Crawley, Midhurst, Storrington and Petworth) and 18 firefighters being lost, with an overall reduction of 37 staff in the Service overall;
  • Horsham fire station will also lose one of its fire engines, as the appliance is being permanently moved to Littlehampton and not being replaced.  Crawley is losing up to seven firefighters and all ten of its retained firefighters.  This has caused concern that the north of the county will be left particularly exposed, as there will only then be guaranteed night time cover from Horsham and Crawley stations, and
  • The previous cuts in 2012 by West Sussex had already seen the closure of fire stations at Bosham, Keymer and Findon, the loss of 6 fire engines, a reduction of approximately 50 personnel in the number of officers available to respond to Incidents and a major reduction in support staff who provide key support to the front line service.

Proposer of the motion to council, Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Crawley Central) said:

“The fight is not yet over.  If the West Sussex Tories want to push ahead with this worrying decision, I believe they must show they have the support of a majority of the entire council, not just one man, or a dozen councillors on a scrutiny committee.  The leadership has not listened to reason on this subject, only listening to the parts of the consultation they wanted to hear. 

“The county has already lost significant numbers of firefighters.  Any further reduction to staffing or operational capabilities in West Sussex Fire and Rescue is in danger of putting both the public and firefighters at risk.  It cannot afford to lose any more.”

The resolution proposed by Cllr Jones and seconded by Cllr Peter Lamb (Northgate and Three Bridges) states:

“This council recognises the significant public concern and opposition to the recent decision by the Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services to implement £1.6 million of cuts to West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services (WSFRS). 

This council believes that these cuts will increase risks to safety both to members of the public and firefighters right across West Sussex, and requests the Cabinet Member abandons the process, and instead retains WSFRS at its current capacity and levels of resilience. 

The council requests the Cabinet pays for this, and also the plan to make Littlehampton a 24-hour immediate response fire station, by making use of part of the millions of pounds in revenue available from budget underspends made this year across all departments of the county council.”