Baroness Smith of Basildon visited Crawley to support the launch of a Labour campaign to reverse cuts to the town’s fire service.
Angela Smith, a Labour peer and former fire service minister, and Chris Oxlade, her party’s parliamentary candidate for Crawley, spoke to firefighters at the town’s fire station on Wednesday (February 11).
West Sussex county councillors voted in favour of £1.6m county-wide cuts last October, which will see Crawley lose a fire engine and ten retained firefighters.
Baroness Smith, who has held a number of posts involving the fire service, said she visited Crawley after being ‘shocked’ by the cuts in the town.
Firefighters gave her and Labour county councillors a tour of the station.
On the cuts, she said: “When he [Chris Oxlade] contacted me I was pretty shocked. These are guys who love the job they do, who are committed to serve the people of Crawley.
“They know they won’t be able to do it as well as they could.
“What they don’t say, and they should have done, is that it puts them at greater danger as well.”
The Labour team at the county council proposed to reverse the cuts at a full county council meeting on Friday.
Cllr Michael Jones’ (Lab, Southgate & Crawley Central) amendment to the budget, which was seconded by Cllr Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush and Ifield West), was lost at the meeting: 38 voted against, 20 for and six abstained.
Only six of the councillors are Labour members. They all represent wards in Crawley.
Commenting before the vote, Baroness Smith said: “They know exactly what the problem is but they could be outvoted by people who really haven’t got a clue about this.
“It depends if they put the interest of the public first - there are times when you have to say hang on guys you’ve got this one wrong.”
Cllr Lionel Barnard, Cabinet member for residents’ services, who has responsibility for fire and rescue, said the decision would create a fire service fit for the 21st century and would meet the needs of West Sussex residents now and in the future.
He said: “This isn’t just about money.”