Fire and rescue service improvements mean advisory panel no longer needed

The ‘significant progress’ made to bring West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service up to scratch has prompted a panel of advisers to declare their services no longer needed.

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 11:49 am

The Independent Advisory Panel, chaired by Kent fire chief Ann Millington, was set up to support improvements being put in place after a highly critical report uncovered failings throughout the service.

At a meeting of the full council on Friday, Duncan Crow, cabinet member for fire and rescue, read part of a letter from Ms Millington.

In it, she praised chief fire officer Sabrina Cohen-Hatton and her team, saying they had done ‘an excellent job in establishing the foundations needed to grow the transformation of the service’.

No one is pretending that this is the end of the improvement journey – it has only been 18 months since the initial inspection and there is still a lot of work to be done.

Mr Crow said: “We will not become complacent. We have plenty to do and it’s important that our improvements are embedded and sustained.”

He added: “Our people are proud to serve and we as a county council were and are determined to turn this around.”

In her letter, Ms Millington said: ”The progress to date leads me to believe that the steps that West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service have taken to improve the service are significant. It will undoubtably take time to fully embed the improvements, and the service has a clear plan in place to do so.”

Her letter outlines progress including:

• A significant programme of work relating to improving issues relating to people, with clear strategic priorities underpinned by a People Action Plan

• The service has fully reviewed its business planning processes and restructured to create capacity and align new internal governance processes that have reduced bureaucracy and enabling more efficient decision making with clear routes

• Securing opportunities for effective member engagement in its activities has since been a clear priority for the service

• The service recognises the critical importance of operational resilience and has made significant progress in assuring this

• The panel also acknowledged the additional £5.1m funding (over three years) and changes to governance and structure, with the Fire and Rescue Service now under a single leadership model reporting directly to the chief executive

Reacting to the letter, Paul Marshall, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “I am incredibly pleased the Independent Advisory Panel have recognised the significant progress being made by our fire service. This is a big step forward that the panel have decided now is the right moment for them to step back as we continue progress to improve.

“I would like to thank Ann and all the members of the Independent Advisory Panel for their support and guidance.”

One of the many jobs on the ‘to do’ list involves the performance of the Surrey/West Sussex 999 combined control room, which went live last December.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was quick to raise safety concerns about the merger, questioning whether staff could handle the sheer volume of calls, and the situation is due to be scrutinised by a Task and Finish Group in January.