Consultation on proposed fire merger due to start

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WEST Sussex Fire and Rescue Service starts a 12-week public consultation tomorrow (Thursday) to seek the views of the public, businesses and staff on its potential merger with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

Throughout the consultation fire officers will be attending County Local Committee meetings, open days and public events. They will also hold specially arranged forums for partners, businesses, the voluntary sector and members of public. Feedback can also be given online, by post or phone.

West Sussex County Council and the East Sussex Fire Authority (ESFA) have been examining options for closer collaboration between the two fire services to see if it would improve performance and protect frontline services from the financial pressures on public sector spending.

The latest business case suggests a full merger under a new combined fire authority for the whole of Sussex provides the best opportunity to make savings of £3.8 million while safeguarding services to the community.

There are no plans to close any fire stations in the merger.

The consultation will run from July 14 to October 6. ESFA is also consulting on the proposed merger and both ESFA and the county council will consider the feedback and a final business case before making a final decision at separate meetings in December.

County fire officer Max Hood hopes as many people as possible will take part in the consultation.

He said: “The pressures on public spending mean all local authorities are working to find ways of providing essential services with reduced budgets.

“A merger would see a significant change in the management and support costs of the Fire & Rescue Service in West Sussex. It could also mean we can protect fire stations and the other frontline services that people need.

“We’re still waiting for details on the future funding from the government before the business case on a possible merger can be completed, but it’s also important to listen to the views of local people before a final decision is taken.

“I hope as many as possible will attend the meetings and public events to speak to fire officers, read the consultation document or seek information via the websites before giving us their feedback on the way forward.”

Pete Bradbury, the county council’s cabinet member for public protection, said: “Our priority remains to provide excellent fire and rescue services to our residents.

“In the current difficult financial climate, we believe this innovative approach of merging the fire services of East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove could enable us to continue to deliver excellent services and improve our operational capability, while reducing back office, management and administration costs.

“The views of the public are important to us and I hope residents, businesses, organisations and stakeholders will participate in the consultation. No decision will be made until the results of the consultation have been considered.”

The business case and consultation document is available online at www.westsussex.gov.uk/fire

Copies of the consultation document are available in libraries, help points, and in reception areas of local authorities, and printed copies can be sent on request.

You can contact the consultation team via email at fireredesign@westsussex.gov.uk or write to Fire Redesign Team, WSFRS HQ, Northgate, Chichester PO19 1BD, or phone 01243 753706.

If approved by central Government a merger would take effect on April 1 2013.

What do you think? Leave your comments below, call the newsdesk on 01403 751230 or write to ct.letters@sussexnewspapers.co.uk