Reprieve for at-risk fire service prevention activities in West Sussex

Plans to cut £400,000 from the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service budget have been dropped – but only for a year.

The decision to carry on funding fire intervention and prevention services in 2019/20, as well as business resilience services, was announced during budget discussions at County Hall, Chichester today (Tuesday January 29).

A Safe drive stay alive presentation

A Safe drive stay alive presentation

The proposals to cut the funding had met with huge opposition, being branded ‘unsustainable and unsafe’ by the Fire Brigades Union and causing concern among members of the council’s own scrutiny committees.

Areas at risk included the Safe Drive Stay Alive courses for young people, the Firebreak training programme, school education visits and electric blanket testing.

Speaking at a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday (January 29), leader Louise Goldsmith said: “We have listened to their comments and other feedback and I hope that people will feel comfortable that the proposals show that we have listened and are prepared to take on board those comments while not affecting the budget in any way.”

The change comes two weeks after proposals to cut £200k from the technical rescue team were also dropped when the Home Office announced it would be stopping a £450k grant from April 2020.

County council leader Louise Goldsmith said they had taken comments and feedback on board

County council leader Louise Goldsmith said they had taken comments and feedback on board

With a £575k-shaped hole in its budget, the council has looked elsewhere for savings.

Rather than cutting fire service funds, it has recommended that £200k of underspend from the 2018/19 community initiative fund be used, as well as £300k of surplus from the business rates levy account.

The proposed cuts were part of the attempt by West Sussex to save £23.9m in 2019/20.

Mrs Goldsmith said she hoped the council would be able to find sponsorship for some of the at-risk services.

She added: “We have given ourselves an extra year because they are very valuable, they have a role to play, and what we have to do is try and fund them in a different way.”

The 2019-2020 revenue budget will go before the full council for approval on February 15.