June 9th 2020
Dear Fire Authority Member,
I'm writing to express my concerns about the proposal for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to move ahead with the integrated risk management plan (IRMP) process, and to be consulting on the plans during the Covid-19 health crisis.
Whilst I recognise that ESFRS has a legal duty to have an IRMP in place, and understand that the existing plan in place is for 2017-2020, it is vital that important service decisions which could have public safety implications, as well as an impact on staffing, are open to proper public scrutiny. The complications of the health crisis we are facing clearly compromise the consultation process, therefore pushing things through without the opportunity for maximum engagement and external scrutiny does not seem appropriate.
I am further concerned by the comments made by ESFRS about it making the Fire Authority aware that postponing the consultation would mean significant delay to the Service's ability to meet the 'potential financial challenges that lay ahead’. This suggests that ESFRS is simply willing to accept, rather than challenge, any funding cuts made by central government. My view is that where proposed changes could risk compromising public safety and leading to job losses, it's even more vital that plans are properly discussed, and not rushed through during this unsettled period to avoid poor outcomes for the region.
Again referring to ESFRS's own communications on the matter, it notes that: "The changes can be made over the next five years without the need for compulsory redundancies, because of natural turnover and retirements." This makes it clear that it is the intention of the proposals for there to be a reduction of fire officers." It is further worrying that by ESFRS's own admission an outcome of the proposals is that some areas will see slower response times: "Where there is a change in response times, we have assessed these areas as low risk and low demand. These areas will be a focus for our community fire safety and education work, preventing fires occurring in the first place.” Since an increase in preventive work and education cannot completely negate the risks, it seems even more important to ensure that a full consultation takes place at a time when people are able to properly engage.
Furthermore, it is evident that there has been a significant shift in recent months about the vital role of key workers and our emergency services, with much greater recognition of what constitutes essential services. Whilst we do not yet have clear evidence of how this will be reflected in future budget decisions, it does feel prudent to not rush through changes in the region until that picture is clearer, and I hope that Fire Authority members take this fully into account during discussions and decision-making on this matter.
Caroline Lucas MP