Did service fail to inform - or was it public apathy?

JUST 0.08 percent of residents responded to the official East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) consultation questionnaire on proposed cuts to fire cover in Hastings, Battle and Brighton.

Only 665 people in East Sussex and Brighton and Hove filled in the online questionnaire - a tiny fraction of the county’s 800,000-plus population.

Speaking at last week’s Fire Authority meeting on Thursday (June 5), where controversial cuts to The Ridge Fire Station were voted through, authority member Cllr Phelim MacCafferty said the figure was ‘not good enough’.

The Green Brighton councillor said: “That means only 0.08 percent of the population of the entire Fire Authority area have been consulted on this.

“My question is, why is that so low?

“In my opinion, consulting 0.08 percent of the population affected by such stringent policies is not good enough.”

The Fire Authority’s chairman, Cllr Phil Howson (UKIP) said: “What are we to do? Are we to spend half a million pounds plus to make sure everyone has a public meeting in all areas of the county?

“We have done all we can to let people know and the parish councils to pass that on.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Stephanie Powell, (Green) accused ESFRS of failing to adequately consult hard to reach groups, such as groups which represent the elderly.

The Brighton and Hove councillor said: “I find this whole thing very, very disappointing.

“I’m very active in my ward and there are a lot of residents who knew absolutely nothing about the consultation.”

But Rother Councillor John Barnes (Conservative) said he felt public apathy was partly to blame for the low response rate to the online questionnaire.

Cllr Barnes said: “The attendance at the public meeting was disappointing. I cannot understand the public apathy on such an issue.”

He added: “I raised the issue at every parish council meeting in my patch.

“I had several hundred emails, which is more than I get on any issue.

“What baffles me is why we still had a number of emails and people did not fill in the questionnaire.”

He added: “At the end of the day, you cannot put answers in people’s minds.

“You can encourage and lead people to respond.”

Hastings Cllr Michael Wincott (Labour) asked for a review of the consultation process, to ensure it was carried out effectively.

However the motion was defeated by just one vote.