Friday, December 3

Fire chief comes to Brighton to spell out case for merger

- September 6, 2011

Chief Fire Officer Des Prichard is coming to Brighton this evening to answer questions about the proposal to merge the fire services in East and West Sussex.

Mr Prichard, who runs East Sussex Fire and Rescue, which serves Brighton and Hove, is due to explain the reasons for the proposed merger with West Sussex Fire and Rescue.

Those reasons include trying to save nearly £4 million a year over the next three to four years without damaging the level of protection offered by the two services.

The cost-cutting may involve the closure of fire stations although Brighton and Hove’s fire stations are not expected to be at risk.

The city has three fire stations – in English Close, Hove, at Preston Circus in Brighton and in Roedean Road, Brighton.

East Sussex Fire Authority has previously considered closing Preston Circus, which is expensive to maintain, and moving into the scrap metal yard in New England Street, Brighton.

The savings could also be achieved in part by introducing a combined control centre instead of one each for East and West Sussex.

A combined regional control centre was built but is not being used after public pressure prompted a rethink by the government.

The aim of creating a new Sussex Fire Authority is currently the subject of a formal 12-week consultation until Thursday 6 October.

Mr Prichard said: “During this process, it is essential that local people are given the opportunity to discuss the issues.

“It is equally important that their fire and rescue service has a real understanding of how they feel about the proposed merger.”

East Sussex Fire Authority and West  Sussex County Council are due to make their final decisions in December with the merged service expected to take over in April 2013.

The formal consultation document said that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government was reducing the grant paid to fire and rescue services.

It said: “As a result we have to make an estimated combined annual budget saving of £3.8 million over the next three to four years.”

One way of achieving this would be to streamline the top management and support staff if the two services merge.

The document also said that the merger was intended to “increase operational capacity and help preserve services”.

It added that the area to be covered by the combined fire and rescue service was equivalent to the one served by Sussex Police.

At the moment the two services are run by East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council.

There would be some transition costs but the consultation document said: “We plan to merge without significantly increasing the cost to you through your council tax.”

After a similar meeting in Eastbourne last Thursday (1 September) he said: “It was an excellent opportunity to listen to any concerns or questions people may have and, hopefully, I was able to answer them as fully as possible.”

The meeting this evening starts at 7pm in Committee Room 1 of the Jubilee Library in Jubilee Street, Brighton.

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