Fire services merger moves a step closer

THE MERGER of East and West Sussex Fire Services has moved a step closer after a decision was taken to set up a single control room for both counties.

The move was announced by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service on Wednesday and the new facility could be handling 999 calls by September 2013.

A decision on where it will be based has still to be made but could involve a number of job losses.

The Combined Fire Authority is now expected to make a decision in the Spring on fully merging the two services into one county wide operation.

Hastings-based councillor Phil Scott, who is a member of the Combined Fire Authority, says any merger must not affect front-line services or public safety.

He said: “This is all part of cost cutting and ultimately I will not support any move that threatens front line jobs. It makes perfect sense to have one chief fire officer, one assistant chief, one human resources team and one support team.

“We will be looking at the impact on the communities of both counties and how best they can be served.

“We will be studying the business case for the merger and how much its going to cost the ratepayers of each county. It could mean the precept in council tax rising. So we have to take all these matters into account by the Spring.”

The East Sussex control room is based in Eastbourne and manned by around 25 staff.

The Fire Brigade Union is concerned that the new control room could trigger job losses.

Matt Dale, FBU Secretary for East Sussex, said: “The exact details of the merger are not available yet to us as we are not sure how it will affect our members.

“But we are concerned about the control centre in Eastbourne and will be speaking to the Fire Authority about how it will affect them. There are a similar number in Chichester for West Sussex and there might only be 40 staff needed for the new control room.”

An idea to merge the two services was first mooted in December last year as a cost cutting plan.

The control room merger follows a successful bid by both services for £3.6 million funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

It also follows the Fire Minister Bob Neill’s decision in December of last year to cancel the previous Government’s proposal to merge nine fire control rooms in the south east.

The cancellation led to the region’s fire and rescue services being asked to consider future ways of working for fire controls and explore options that would combine operational benefits with financial savings for the public.

Pete Bradbury, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection, said: “A single fire control centre in Sussex will have more staff on duty than either of the two current control rooms, as well as save money. It will also enhance working with the Police and other agencies during an emergency.

“The success of the funding bid means project work on combining control centres will continue and both our preferred location options – along the A23 corridor or the existing West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service control centre in Chichester – remain viable.”