A blistering attack on the Tory-led West Sussex County Council for a ‘failure of leadership and management’ has been launched by one of the county’s MPs.
Last week an inspector’s report rated West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service overall as ‘requires improvement’ but two areas ‘protecting the public through fire regulation’ and ‘ensuring fairness and promoting diversity’ – were found to be ‘inadequate’.
This comes as the county council is still reeling from receiving a ‘inadequate’ rating for its children’s services last month.
In a highly significant intervention, Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames is writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, expressing his ‘grave concerns’ about the governance of the authority and asking him to look at why things have gone so wrong.
He said: “It seems to me extraordinary. They must have seen this coming but nobody seems to have done anything about it.”
For Sir Nicholas the primary concern is safety, both for the children of West Sussex and residents needing help from the fire and rescue service.
He added: “I want someone to look at the overall situation as to why the county council keeps having these serious problems.”
Asked if he has any ideas, Sir Nicholas replied: “I think it’s a question of a failure of leadership and a failure of management and that is for councillors and the county council for them to resolve themselves, but they seem to just let things through.”
He felt the children’s services report was ‘as bad as I have seen in 36 years of being in Parliament’ and called it ‘disgraceful’.
While there are ‘admirable people’ working in both children’s services and the fire and rescue service, Sir Nicholas asked why the county council was not only ‘failing to stop the problems’ but when they are identified not dealing with them quickly enough.
He and other West Sussex MPs are due to have a meeting later this week to discuss the issues.
Sir Nicholas added: “We are all extremely unhappy about what has happened and the results of this report.”
Louise Goldsmith, Conservative leader of the county council, is already facing fresh calls to resign in light of the fire service report, just weeks after she survived a vote of no confidence.
During the debate several of her Tory colleagues joined opposition members in suggesting the time was right for her to step down.
Last week Mrs Goldsmith chose not to answer questions about whether she planned to resign or why she thinks she should still stay on as leader.
Instead she said the public could be assured that ‘we have a fire service that is there for them in an emergency’, adding: “The report highlights the positive financial management of the service and confirmed its spending is in line with other authorities across the country.
“During the last four years, we have invested almost £6m in fire engines and other technical equipment.
“We have invested £1m in a new IT system and, following the report, we have invested £400K to address the immediate concerns that were raised.”