ANGRY councillors have snubbed an invitation by the fire chief to attend a conference at a plush resort - as the service faces cutbacks of more than £7 million.
Last month East Sussex Fire Authority voted to axe more than 20 full-time posts across the county and remove the retained fire appliance from The Ridge Fire Station in a bid to save £7.1 million over the next five years.
But its move to invite all 18 councillors, who sit on the authority, to attend the conference and overnight stay at the Wyboston Lakes golf and spa resort in Bedfordshire in October has been blasted as ‘wholly inappropriate’.
The invite was sent on behalf of chief fire officer Des Prichard. It includes dinner and travel arrangements for the Combined Fire Authorities conference in October. The cost would be at least £2,000 for 18 people.
Cllr Phil Scott, Labour group leader on the ESFRS Combined Fire Authority, said neither he nor fellow Labour councillors, Michael Wincott and Bob Carden will be attending.
He said: “I am astonished to have a received an invite along with other East Sussex Fire Authority councillors to attend a conference set in such luxurious settings. This invite comes hot on the heels of a decision that was made by the East Sussex Combined Fire Authority on June 5 which agreed that many firefighter posts and appliances would be lost across East Sussex. This is junketing and wholly inappropriate.
“At a time when many members of staff at ESFRS are facing losing their jobs there seems to be very little restraint being shown within the organisation at the top. I would urge that other councillors on the Combined Fire Authority follow the Labour group lead and decline the invitation.”
Cllr Wincott said: “This isn’t some discount hotel with the basics, but a plush, country club with its own gym and golf course. I don’t have a problem with fire chiefs meeting, but why do they have to spend so much money doing it? There is no excuse for such extravagant spending when frontline firefighters across East Sussex are losing their jobs. It sends the wrong signal.”
Allison Collins, spokeswoman for ESFRS, said: “There is legitimate interest in how public money is spent to ensure it is used in the most effective way, particularly in the light of the need to save £7.1 million over the next five-year period.
“This annual conference is an opportunity for key members of the Fire Authority to meet with colleagues from other fire authorities to discuss how changes in Government policy, financial pressures and other issues impact on Fire Authority business.
“This event is also an important part of the development of members, to assist them to make the difficult decisions facing the Fire Authority.
“It is a matter for each political party on the Fire Authority to decide on their attendance and if they do attend, if they will stay overnight at the venue.”