County council vote to uphold fire cuts on ‘shameful day’

Fire crews are now damping down
Fire crews are now damping down

A West Sussex County Council decision to uphold cuts to the fire service represented the ‘most shameful day’ in council history, a campaigner said.

At the full council meeting, held at County Hall North in Horsham on Friday (October 17), Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) submitted a motion for the county council to overturn the decision to make £1.6m of cuts to West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

However, the motion was rejected by 28 councillors - 18 voted for the motion and there were two abstentions.

The decision was labelled a ‘death sentence’ by campaigner Tony Morris, of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Stop the Cuts.

He said: “Were it not so shocking, Friday’s county council debate on fire service cuts would have been comic.

“Friday 17th October 2014 will be remembered as the darkest and most shameful day in West Sussex County Council’s history.”

Andy Petch (Con, Hassocks and Victoria), a firefighter of 12 years, warned members that cuts to the fire service ‘will cost lives’.

Mr Petch, who has been based at Hove Fire Station for more than a decade, was the only Conservative councillor to speak out against the decision made by fellow Tory Lionel Barnard last month.

Mr Petch said: “Cutting other county council services may have caused some people inconvenience, hardship, anger and substantial distress. But these will be my first since being on the council that will cost lives.

“I still find it astounding that the entire area of Mid Sussex has no immediate response cover at night or at all on weekends.

“Crawley Fire Station has the most experienced and therefore arguably the best firefighters in the county. This does not mean they should be asked to make up for shortfalls elsewhere in north and Mid Sussex.”

Labour councillors representing the Crawley area said the town would be the worst affected within the county.

Mr Jones said implementing the cuts would be a ‘terrible mistake’ and added: “If councillors want these cuts to happen, they must vote today to associate themselves with it.”

Describing the cuts as ‘savage’, Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush and Ifield West) urged members to ‘support the motion and protect the people you are elected to protect’.

Mr Barnard (Con, Henfield) defended the public consultation that came under fire by some members.

He said: “I am afraid I don’t recognise significant public concern, the consultation was widely available.

“These changes were necessary to bring the service up to date and fit for purpose. They should be carried out even if savings were not required.”

Lionel Parsons (UKIP, Sompting and North Lancing) said: “Are we here to save lives or save money?

“I would like to know if we have consulted thoroughly with the people on the ground about what is going on.”

Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East) criticised the public consultation in her support of Mr Jones’ motion.

She said: “The consultation was a sham, and he has made the decision he always was intending to make.

“Less than one in every one thousand of our residents replied, and there was no plan B.

“We have let down our dedicated firefighting team and our residents. Putting our residents’ lives at risk should never be an option for this council.”

Jim Rae (Con, Roffey) dismissed Mr Jones’ claims as ‘scaremongering’.

He added: “Does any member here believe professional firefighters would put any residents at risk?

“I believe this council should treat this motion with the disregard it deserves.”

But Dr James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East) replied: “Mr Rae is disregarding a professional firefighter sitting in front of me, Andy Petch.”