BREAKING NEWS: Fire service merger is ‘best option’ says county council

A MERGER of East and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services is the ‘best option’ to protect community services from national pressures on public spending, according to West Sussex County Council.

East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council have today announced they are to hold a public consultation on the proposed merger of the two services.

A 12-week public consultation is now planned to take place from July 14 to October 6. Feedback from the consultation will be considered before a final decision is made.

In December 2010, the fire authority and county council had jointly announced they would explore options for closer collaboration, up to and including, a full merger of the two fire and rescue services.

The aim was to explore which options would preserve services to local communities at the same time as seeking efficiency savings to meet financial pressures from grant reductions.

Both services also wanted to see how increased collaboration or a full merger would improve operational resilience and overall capacity to the collective benefit of local residents, businesses and visitors alike across East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton Hove.

Today’s announcement on the consultation follows a decision by Pete Bradbury, West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Protection, after the proposed merger was discussed at the Council’s Community Services Select Committee.

The proposed merger had already been considered in a confidential session by East Sussex Fire Authority at its meeting on June 2.

Should the authorities decide not to pursue a full merger, work would still continue on closer collaboration between the two services to progress the more limited opportunities for financial savings and organisational efficiencies.

A final business case, including all of the outcomes from the public consultation as well as final information on the financial implications, will be presented to East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council at their respective meetings in December.

If agreed, a merger would still be subject to Government approval and would not be able to come into effect before April 1 2013.

John Livings, chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority Chairman, said: “Over the years, we have striven to deliver high quality services to all our local communities, at a price council tax payers can afford to pay.

“These are the key priorities identified as being the most important from our annual consultation exercises. As such, we have kept council tax increases low and made efficiency savings to avoid cutting our services to local communities.”

He continued: “However, most public services are facing more difficult budget decisions and we are no different, yet we remain committed to making the right decisions and prioritising our resources effectively.

“We believe a larger fire authority covering East and West Sussex and our city would be better in terms of building a more resilient organisation to deliver much needed services, as well as giving more scope to reduce management and overhead costs.

“The views of the public on such a crucial issue are extremely important to us. A consultation process will take place to provide local council taxpayers with the opportunity to give us their feedback before any decisions are taken on the way forward.”

Mr Bradbury added: “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, whilst 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.”

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