New dedicated scrutiny committee for West Sussex’s fire and rescue service

West Sussex Fire & Rescue
West Sussex Fire & Rescue

A new scrutiny committee to examine issues and decisions involving the Fire & Rescue Service will be set up by West Sussex County Council.

The service was rated ‘requires improvement’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in June and has been working since then to bring things up to scratch.

The scrutiny of the service has been the responsibility of the Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee but – as the name suggests – was one of many huge areas which needed attention.

With issues such as climate change, libraries and highways also within the committee’s remit, chairman Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North) said: “It is a huge area to look at and, with the workload, I think in some areas we were not doing adequate enough scrutiny.”

He added: “When I took on this role three years ago we barely looked at the fire service. Looking back over the previous four years, I can remember one or two occasions when it was looked at.”

Mr Barrett-Miles praised the work of the county’s new Chief Fire Officer, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, saying her aim in life was to ‘make our fire service outstanding’.

He told the meeting that there was a feeling within the fire service that it had lost its identity within the county council, adding: “This is one step to enhance their identification as a very important service within the county council – but a service that has its own being.”

As well as acting as a boost to the service’s identity, the new committee should help to improve the transparency, effectiveness and openness which some felt had not been good enough.

Labour leader Michael Jones said cuts to the fire service’s budget had been ‘nodded through’ in recent years and that creating a new scrutiny committee would help to stop that happening again.

He added: “There is a need to improve the transparency of the council’s governance of the Fire & Rescue Service. I see it as part of forging a stronger identity and recognition of the service within the council.”

The plan had been for the new committee to start up in April but David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle) argued that it should be ready sooner.

He told the meeting that the council should know which members would be on the new committee before the next meeting of the full council, in February.

The other councillors agreed.