Moving fire service 999 call handling to Surrey ‘could worsen response times’ for West Sussex

Crews were called to a fire at a Burgess Hill property today (February 19)
Crews were called to a fire at a Burgess Hill property today (February 19)

Worse response times to 999 fire calls in West Sussex could be the result of plans to share Surrey’s emergency control centre, Lib Dems have warned.

A joint control centre and mobilisation system for fire services in West Sussex and Surrey was the go-ahead last week.

The county’s current centre is run at Haywards Heath in partnership with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, but this arrangement will end in February 2020 after the Tory-led West Sussex County Council terminated the contract.

Debbie Kennard, the county council’s cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said: “We have taken a thorough and in-depth look at the options available and the one we are proposing is tried and tested, while offering good value for money.”

But Liberal Democracts have spoken against the move.

James Walsh, Lib Dem group leader at County Hall, said: “It is running the very real risk of worsening an already poor response time in West Sussex for emergency fire calls, and increasing the risk to both life and property.

“The average call time in Surrey is already double that of the Sussex Control Centre, which will only worsen our situation.”

He also raised concerns about West Sussex engines being utilised to cover any crewing shortages in Surrey.

Dan Purchese, another Lib Dem county councillor, added: “Although West Sussex will remain legally responsible for call handling and mobilising, it will have no control over the daily management and operation by Surrey FRS.

“It did not work for when Surrey did the same for the Isle of Wight, who scrapped the arrangement at the end of their five year contract.

“It doesn’t even look like good value for money, as Surrey will be charging West Sussex £900,000 per year for their services, three times what they were charging the Isle of Wight, and four and a half times what Hampshire were charging them.

“We have also spent millions of pounds of public money on the Sussex Control Centre, and that will now all be money down the drain, and blows sky high the Tory claim to be careful with taxpayers’ money.”

At a meeting last month West Sussex’s chief fire officer Gavin Watts told members it would be business as usual for the fire service while the changes were made.