Sussex fire merger plans put on shelf

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A MONEY-saving deal to merge two fire services is being delayed because of uncertainty over government funding.

Leaders at West Sussex County Council, based in Chichester, and East Sussex Fire Authority have decided they will not be going ahead with a full merger in April next year.

But a merger remains the desired way forward if government funding issues can be ironed out, leaders said.

The decision comes after government proposals to change the system of funding for all local authorities and the uncertainties this would cause on the financial planning for a fire authority for all Sussex.

Councillor Pete Bradbury, who heads the fire service in West Sussex, said: ‘Since the Local Government Resources Review was announced, both services have been seeking confirmation on what this would mean for redistribution of grants for a merged service, what potential risks this might create for our local funding and, ultimately, whether council tax for the merged service could still be equalised across the whole of the area.

‘The Department for Communities and Local Government have now told us it is not possible to provide that level of detail at the current time.’

Both authorities say work on creating a new joint control room is still going ahead.

Cllr Bradbury added: ‘The findings of the business case and public support, coupled with the knowledge that finances are likely to get even tighter, shows how closer collaboration and joint working is both necessary and desirable.’