Fire services’ merger plans are scrapped

PLANS to merge East Sussex and West Sussex fire services have been scrapped.

The two authorities announced last week they would not be proceeding with a full merger.

But they will continue working more closely together to deliver savings and efficiencies while seeking to build a more resilient service across Sussex and Brighton & Hove.

Both authorities have also made clear their work on creating a new joint control room is still going ahead, with the desired location being along the A23 corridor or at a mutually convenient location.

At present the control room for East Sussex is based in Upperton Road in Eastbourne and there are fears jobs will be cut if a new control room in Chichester goes ahead.

The two authorities had originally announced plans to examine future options for closer collaboration, up to and including a full merger, back in December 2010.

After the initial business case concluded that merger was the best option to protect community fire and rescue services from the expected impacts of government grant reductions and improve operational resilience, a 12-week public consultation took place between July 14 and October 6 last year.

While the proposed merger was strongly supported by those who took part, the decision not to proceed with a merger in 2013 is because of new government proposals to change the system of grant funding for all local authorities and the uncertainties this would cause on the financial planning for a newly-merged fire authority-.

Councillor John Livings, chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said, “Regrettably, and due to circumstances beyond our control, both East Sussex Fire Authority and West Sussex County Council have agreed it is not possible at this time to proceed to merger in 2013.

“The government first announced its Local Government Resource Review in March 2011, several months after we had begun looking at whether merger was possible.

“After completing its review the government now proposes to link all local authority funding to the amount of business rates raised locally, and intends to bring a new Local Government Finance Bill before Parliament later in 2012.

“Proposals include the funding of all fire and rescue authorities, regardless of whether they are a combined fire authority or part of a county council and, with unfortunate timing, the funding changes are planned to take effect on April 1, 2013 - exactly the same day as our proposed merger.”