West and East Sussex fire merger cancelled

WEST Sussex County Council and East Sussex Fire Authority have today (Thursday, February 2) announced they will not be proceeding with a full merger of the two services in April next year.

A spokeswoman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said a merger “remains the desired way forward if government funding and financial issues can be resolved”.

The two authorities also said they would be working more closely together to deliver savings.

Work on a joint control room is still going ahead.

The spokeswoman said: “While the proposed merger was strongly supported by those who took part in the consultation, today’s decision not to proceed with a merger in 2013 is because of new government proposals to change the system of grant funding and the uncertainties this would cause on the financial planning for a newly merged fire authority for Sussex.”

Councillor Pete Bradbury, West Sussex County Council’s member for public protection, said: “Since the Local Government Resources Review was announced both services have been seeking confirmation on what this would mean for redistribution of grants for a merged service, what potential risks this might create for our local funding and, ultimately, whether council tax for the merged service could still be equalised across the whole of the area.

“The department has now told us it is not possible to provide that level of detail at the current time due to the ongoing work of the review and the Finance Bill.

“The department did agree, however, to see whether, and when, it would be possible for them to give the necessary assurances in the future.

“It is frustrating that the timing of the government’s resource review creates this problem, but both West Sussex County Council and East Sussex Fire Authority understand and accept the position, and have now agreed it is not possible to merge in 2013.”

He added: “The findings of the business case and public support, coupled with the knowledge that finances are likely to get even tighter, shows how closer collaboration and joint working between the two services is both necessary and desirable.

“This work will continue.

“Until the position on a full merger becomes clear, we will consider all other ways to achieve the financial and operational benefits of collaboration, short of a merger, whilst minimising the impact on services to the public.”