Sussex’s Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has decided to drop plans to take control of fire and rescue services in West Sussex.
Last year the Government set out its intention to allow PCCs to take over fire services where a local case can be made with the aim of improving accountability.
However the proposals have been opposed by figures across the political spectrum in West Sussex, with many describing the idea of change as a ‘distraction’.
Mrs Bourne has been developing a business case and presented her findings to councillors and fire chiefs earlier today (Friday July 14).
Police and fire services will continue to work closely, but the governance of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service will remain with West Sussex County Council.
Louise Goldsmith, Conservative leader of the county council, said: “We are delighted that Ms Bourne has seen the central role West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service plays in our county council and decided it is safe and well where it is.
“We look forward to working closely with her to continue to develop and build the modern fire service our residents deserve. We think the men and women in our fire service deserve to be part of an organisation that values them and that has ambitious plans for the future; which we do.”
Meanwhile James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, added: “I’m delighted it’s staying as it is, mainly for the reason that until Katy Bourne gets the police service in order I would fear her running the fire service as well.”
He labelled the exercise an ‘enormous waste of time and money’, and called on the Government to refund the almost £100,000 the county council has spent on providing information.
Meanwhile Labour county councillor Michael Jones described being ‘relieved’ that the fire authorities would stay under council control, but criticised Mrs Bourne for saying she would revisit her decision in two years’ time,
He explained: “It may only be dressing up the fact that the PCC has spent so much and is now not going to do anything, but it is wrong for her to leave a question mark hanging over the future running of our fire services. It is the worst of both worlds.
“How can they plan ahead when they don’t know even the fundamentals like who is going to be in charge?
Mrs Bourne said: “Through the process of preparing the report, the fire authorities have given the public a renewed commitment to more energetically embrace collaboration.
“Sussex Police also supports closer working between the two fire services. The report shows them how to do this and where the efficiency savings can be made.
“I want to support that transformation without disruption to the service or causing unnecessary anxiety for fire service professionals and incurring further costs.
“That is why I will not be seeking a change to governance at this time.”
The study cost the PCC’s office £150,000 to put together and was funded by central Government.
“This independent report shows that the current fire and rescue structures in Sussex could be modified and rationalised for the benefit of staff, local residents and taxpayers,” said Mrs Bourne.
“It reveals savings of at least £7m which can be realised over the next 10 years through closer collaboration, including standardising operating and training procedures, joint procurement and utilising compatible fire-fighting equipment.
“Regionally, our emergency services are already working together to share premises, fleet management and communication platforms. The savings and improved co-ordination from these large projects are being achieved, albeit slowly, without substantial changes to governance. However, as the report highlights, with real determination and leadership there are opportunities to work even more creatively together.”
Last year WSCC launched the ‘Safer in our Hands’ campaign to retain the current accountability arrangements for the fire service.
More to follow.
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