Fire service merger halted

A plan to create a Sussex-wide fire service from April 2013 has been abandoned because of financial uncertainties.

Talks have been going on for a full merger between the East Sussex Fire Authority and the fire department of West Sussex County Council.

The authorities have not ruled out a merger in the future saying it remains the “desired way forward” if government funding and financial issues can be resolved.

The two authorities have also pledged to continue working more closely to deliver savings and efficiencies, whilst seeking to build a more resilient service across Sussex and Brighton and Hove.

Both authorities have also made clear that their work on creating a new joint control room is still going ahead, with the desired location being along the A23 corridor or at a mutually convenient location.

The two authorities had originally announced plans to examine future options for closer collaboration, up to and including a full merger, in December 2010.

A public consultation supported the merger but the decision to proceed was taken, according to a statement, “ because of new government proposals to change the system of grant funding for all local authorities and the uncertainties this would cause on the financial planning for a newly merged fire authority for Sussex”.

Councillor John Livings, Chairman of East Sussex Fire Authority, said :”The government first announced its Local Government Resource Review (LGRR) in March 2011, several months after we had begun our work on looking at whether merger was possible. After completing its review the government now proposes to link all local authority funding to the amount of business rates raised locally, and it intends to bring a new Local Government Finance Bill before Parliament later in 2012.

“The proposals include the funding of all fire and rescue authorities, regardless of whether they are a combined fire authority or part of a county council and, with unfortunate timing, the funding changes are planned to take effect on 1st April 2013 – exactly the same day as our proposed merger.”

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