Last chance to have a say on major fire and rescue changes

A consultation on major changes at East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service closes today (Friday June 19).

Friday, 19th June 2020, 11:16 am
East Sussex fire and rescue service

This is the final chance for residents to have their say on a five-year integrated risk management plan, which sets out seven proposals the service says are centred on public and firefighter safety ‘which aim to deliver our service in a more flexible and efficient way’.

Their website adds: “We believe our proposals provide the best options for our communities with the funding that is likely to be available to us in the future.”

It claims evidence shows the proposals will improve emergency cover.

They would involve major changes to staffing and working conditions, a reduction in firefighter posts and a number of stations going down to a single fire engine.

Huge response to petition

The proposed changes have been vehemently opposed by the East Sussex Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for the cuts to be rejected arguing they would ‘decimate’ the fire and rescue service.

The union and others have suggested the consultation should not have been held during the pandemic.

The FBU has warned that the cuts to resources will impact on firefighters’ ability to respond to emergencies quickly and safely and ultimately increase response times.

They also point out how the fire service, like others those across the country, has faced a decade of austerity which has added pressure to an ‘already overstretched service’.

Decisions to be made later this year

The East Sussex Fire Authority, made of up of elected councillors, approved the proposals for consultation, but it will still have to decide whether or not to sign off on proposals when they come back later this year after the consultation responses have been analysed.

The consultation findings are set to be discussed at a fire authority meeting in September.

War of words

The issue has prompted a particular bitter war of words in Lewes.

Last month both Conservative MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield and Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown Lloyd Russell-Moyle joined forces to oppose the changes.

Ms Caulfield said: “Now is not the right time to be consulting members of the public on wide ranges changes.”

In response, the Lib Dems pointed out a recent inspection report made it clear the service needed to review and update its IRMP.

Meanwhile minister James Brokenshire had written to all services in April emphasising that work on IRMPs must continue and any failure to do so could result in government intervention.

The Lib Dems also pointed out that the East Sussex Fire Authority had only approved the consultation and not made any final decisions.

Ms Caulfield then fired back, restating her opposition to the cuts and her belief the consultation should have been postponed.

She said: “People are rightly worried about cuts to essential fire services across the constituency and I will continue to work alongside residents and other parties who can see that the consultation and planned cuts are not good for our area, even if the Lib Dems cannot see this.”

Now Carolyn Lambert, Lib Dem county councillor and vice-chair of the fire authority, has written an open letter to Ms Caulfield asking her to ‘make good on your public promises and to restore your cuts to frontline services’.

She wrote: “So, what ongoing funding can you get for the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service that we can build into our baseline budget for frontline services? Can you get this for us before September: that is, when the Fire Authority will look at the responses to the consultation and make its decision?”

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