Fire stations

On Friday I visited the retained fire stations at Findon and Keymer to meet some of the firefighters who are trying to save their stations from closure.

The proposals to close these stations have been put forward by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service as part of a much wider reorganisation that it hopes will save £1.2 million.

I told the firefighters that I did not agree with the closures.

I do not question these proposals lightly.  I appreciate that savings need to be made and I support the County Council who will have to make some difficult decisions in the months ahead.

But the overall amount of money that will be saved by closing the retained fire stations at Findon and Keymer is very low. 

According to the fire service, it will save £117,000 and £122,000 a year respectively - which works out at less than 1 per cent of the County's annual fire budget.

Of course it's true that every little bit helps.  But I hope that the fire service and the County Council will think again and find other ways to save the money.

The situation reminds me of the debate over the proposed downgrading of our local hospitals - when the Primary Care Trust was eventually persuaded to go back to the drawing board, they found a better way to deliver the savings while protecting the local services.  The fire service should do the same.

I think we should be promoting the retained firefighters, not reducing their role.  They provide a huge proportion of our fire cover at very low cost.  They are great value for money and they build strong links between the community and the fire service.

I believe that these proposed changes are a step in the wrong direction.

Ultimately, it's a decision for the County Council, not for Parliament.  However, I can raise concerns on behalf of my constituents.

So I'll be meeting with the County Fire Officer shortly and submitting my comments to the public consultation before tomorrow's deadline. 

I hope that the County Council will reconsider these plans.  As we've already seen from the packed village hall meetings, protest marches and petitions, local people value these services highly.

Christopher N Howarth