Public consultation to be held over East Sussex and West Sussex fire merger

EAST Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council have today (Friday, July 1) announced they are to hold a public consultation on the proposed merger of East and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services.

The decision comes after a business case concluded a merger was the best option to protect community fire services from national spending cuts, subject to a coalition government review of local authority funding.

A 12-week public consultation is now planned to take place from Thursday, July 14, to Thursday, October 6.

Pete Bradbury, West Sussex County Council’s member for public protection, 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 East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove could enable us to continue to deliver excellent services and improve our operational capability, whilst 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.”

In December 2010, the fire authority and county council jointly announced they would explore options for closer collaboration, up to and including, a full merger of the two services.

Both services also wanted to see how increased collaboration or a full merger would improve operational resilience and overall capacity.

Today’s announcement on the consultation follows a decision by Mr Bradbury.

If the authorities decide not to pursue a full merger, work would still continue on closer collaboration between the two services to progress the more limited opportunities for financial savings and organisational efficiencies.

A final business case, including all of the outcomes from the public consultation as well as final information on the financial implications, will be presented to East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council at their respective meetings in December.

If agreed, a merger would still be subject to government approval and would not be able to come into effect before April 1, 2013.

Councillor John Livings, chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said: “The views of the public on such a crucial issue are extremely important to us.

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