Proposals to cut West Sussex Fire Service Operations budget ‘unsustainable and unsafe’

West Sussex Fire and Rescue. Pic Steve Robards SR1817300 SUS-180108-084305001
West Sussex Fire and Rescue. Pic Steve Robards SR1817300 SUS-180108-084305001

Proposals to cut £600,000 from the West Sussex Fire Service Operations budget have been described as ‘unsustainable and unsafe’ by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

As West Sussex County Council attempts to save £145m by 2021, services such as electric blanket testing, Safe Drive Stay Alive courses and FireBreak courses are all at risk.

A report to the environment, communities and fire select committee, which will meet on Thursday (December 6) gave details of the proposed cuts.

They include a £400,000 reduction in intervention and prevention activities, such as the electric blanket testing, and £200,000 from a review and restructure of the Technical Rescue Unit.

The report acknowledged that such a restructure could see West Sussex lose some of the specialist capability brought by the team, which deals with incidents such as collapsed buildings, large animal rescue, and water rescue.

Joseph Weir, FBU regional secretary, said it would ‘reduce the safety of firefighters and residents’ across the county.

Mr Weir said the proposals were ‘counter-productive’, adding: “It is a short-term financial saving that, over an extended period of time, will prove to cost more to West Sussex County Council.”

He pointed out that the fire service had seen £8m of savings since 2010, and a 37 per cent reduction in firefighter numbers.

As well as the £600,000, it is proposed that another £100,000 be found from the public protection budget, which would include the loss of the Duke of Cornwall courses.

These courses help to educate and train young people to help out before, during and after a crisis.

With less and less funding coming from central government, the county council has had little choice but to repeatedly tighten its belt in order to balance its budget year after year - something it is legally required to do.

The committee report stated that all departments had been asked to review their spending and ‘identify areas where potential savings can be made’.

Mr Weir said: “The cuts are unsustainable and unsafe.”

Staff will be consulted on the plans between December 13 and January 10.

The environment, communities and fire select committee meeting will start at 10.30am at County Hall, Chichester. Members of the public are welcome to attend and the meeting will be webcast via the council’s website.