LABOUR councillors are putting pressure on the county council following swingeing cuts to the fire service.
They have called for a full debate on proposals to cut West Sussex Fire and Rescue (WSFRS) services. This move follows the announcement that West Sussex County Council’s (WSCC) cabinet member for residents’ services Lionel Barnard had decided to go ahead with proposed cuts to save £1.6m across the county.
Labour county councillors are challenging the decision by putting forward a motion for debate at the full council meeting this month, calling on the cuts to be abandoned. They say all councillors should have to vote on whether they support the cuts.
Midhurst Town Council has also called for a full debate.
The cuts include the loss of one of the two fire engines at Midhurst and Petworth, and the loss of three firefighters at both Bognor and Chichester.
A Labour spokesman said: “We have stepped up the pressure on the council because of public concern and objections from some firefighters that the cuts are likely to put residents and fire crews at increased risk.
“The previous cuts in 2012 had already seen the closure of fire stations, including at Bosham, the loss of six fire engines, and a major reduction in staff.”
Labour county councillor for Crawley, Michael Jones, said ‘the fight is not yet over’.
“If the West Sussex Tories want to push ahead with this worrying decision, I believe they must show they have the support of a majority of the entire council, not just one man, or a dozen councillors on a scrutiny committee,” he added.
“The leadership has not listened to reason on this subject, only listening to the parts of the consultation they wanted to hear.
“The county has already lost significant numbers of firefighters. Any further reduction in West Sussex Fire and Rescue is in danger of putting both the public and firefighters at risk.”
But WSCC said the decision was likely to go-ahead. A spokesman told the Observer: “Lionel Barnard’s decision to support West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Future Fire and Rescue Proposals for 2015-16 was circulated to all 71 WSCC Elected Members and has not been challenged via the democratic ‘call-in’ process.
“The Labour group has now submitted a motion for the proposals to be discussed further at the next full council meeting on October 17. Although this discussion is likely to go ahead, in the absence of a formal call-in, the original decision that Lionel made stands and WSFRS will now look to implement the changes.”