Sussex

West Sussex Fire Service control room merger with Surrey backed

West Sussex Fire Service relocates control centre to Surrey Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption West Sussex Fire Service relocates control centre to Surrey

Plans to merge West Sussex and Surrey's fire control service have been backed.

In 2011 West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) merged with the East Sussex (ESFRS) control room, but in 2018 a new system was put in place and WSFRS terminated its contract.

Deputy chief fire officer Neil Stocker told West Sussex County Council's select committee the move would make WSFRS "more efficient".

It is also due to provide "a significant savings opportunity".

Councillors considered 20 options including re-establishing an in-house service, but the Surrey merger came out top.

The current arrangement officially ends in February 2020, so the new control system must be operational before then.

'Worrying' figures

A council report said the Surrey fire service had superior technology to ESFRS, had previously managed fire control for the Isle of Wight and had a process in place to get West Sussex on board.

The merger requires an initial investment of £934,000, however the council forecasts annual savings of £855,000, which would make the arrangement "better value" for taxpayers.

Councillor Michael Jones questioned whether it was "worrying" that Surrey's call handling times appeared to be worse than West Sussex's.

Jonathan Lacey from WSFRS said that was due to Surrey operatives taking time on calls to prepare fire fighters, and challenge whether they need to be deployed - for example to automatic fire alarms.

This meant slower call handling times but faster response times to emergencies, he added.

Analysis

By Ben Weisz, political reporter, BBC Sussex

Tried and tested software. Roadside cameras beaming into the control room. Data on how quickly 999 calls are being answered on the chief fire officer's mobile phone.

Oh, and the chance to save money, too.

For WSFRS, there are plenty of advantages to moving into Surrey's high-tech control centre in Reigate.

But there are plenty of questions about the detail. What might prove tricky, and how well thought through are the plans for dealing with that? What if the move isn't finished before the current deal is up in 2020?

However effective the new set up will be, there's the considerable matter of unpicking current arrangements first.

Even with goodwill on all sides, that could prove tricky.

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