Brighton and Hove's fire service moves closer to merger with West Sussex

Posted On 02 Jul 2011 at 8:18 am

The fire brigade serving Brighton and Hove has moved a step closer to merging with the neighbouring West Sussex service.

East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council announced yesterday (Friday 1 July) that they are to hold a formal consultation.

During the 12-week consultation the public will be able to have their say about the proposed merger of East Sussex Fire and Rescue and West Sussex Fire and Rescue.

The consultation is being held after councillors accepted a business case concluding that a merger was the best way to protect fire and rescue services from the national pressures on public spending.

Any merger would be subject to details of future funding arrangements for local authorities which are currently being reviewed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

The public consultation is expected to start on Thursday 14 July and end on Thursday 6 October.

Both East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council said that feedback from the consultation would be considered before a final decision is made.

Costs

They started the merger process last December by jointly announcing that they would explore options for closer collaboration, up to and including a full merger of the two fire and rescue services.

They said that their aim was to explore which options would preserve services to local communities while cutting costs because the government was reducing the grants that provide most of their funding.

They also said that they wanted to see how increased collaboration or a full merger would improve “operational resilience” and their overall capacity.

The announcement yesterday follows a decision by Councillor Pete Bradbury, the West Sussex County Council cabinet member for public protection.

It came after the proposed merger was discussed by the council’s Community Services Select Committee.

The proposed merger had already been considered in secret by East Sussex Fire Authority at its meeting on Thursday 2 June.

Should the full merger plans fall through, East and West Sussex councillors will still work on closer collaboration between the two services to try to save money.

A final business case, including the outcome of the public consultation and updated information on the financial implications, will be discussed by East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council at separate meetings in December.

If agreed, a merger would still be subject to government approval and would not come into effect before April 2013.

Priorities

Councillor John Livings, the chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said: “Over the years, we have striven to deliver high-quality services to all our local communities, at a price council tax payers can afford to pay.

“These are the key priorities identified as being the most important from our annual consultation exercises.

“As such, we have kept council tax increases low and made efficiency savings to avoid cutting our services to local communities.

“However, most public services are facing more difficult budget decisions and we are no different.

“Yet we remain committed to making the right decisions and prioritising our resources effectively.

“We believe a larger fire authority covering East and West Sussex and our city would be better in terms of building a more resilient organisation to deliver much-needed services, as well as giving more scope to reduce management and overhead costs.

“The views of the public on such a crucial issue are extremely important to us.

Innovative

“A consultation process will take place to provide local council tax payers with the opportunity to give us their feedback before any decisions are taken on the way forward.”

Councillor Bradbury said: “Our priority remains to provide excellent fire and rescue services to our residents.

“In the current difficult financial climate, we believe this innovative approach of merging the fire services of West and East Sussex and Brighton and Hove could enable us to continue to deliver excellent services and improve our operational capability, while reducing back office, management and administration costs.

“The views of the public are important to us and I hope residents, businesses, organisations and stakeholders will participate in the consultation.

“No decision will be made until the results of the consultation have been considered.”

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