Friday, 22 July 2016

Why I’m calling for your support to keep West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service where it can best serve you

Sometimes, there are issues that bring us together no matter what political colour we might be.

Today we saw that when we debated the plans of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner to look at whether there is a case to take over the running of our fire service.

I think we sent a very clear message; we believe West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service should remain at the heart of our county council, working to make our communities stronger, safer and more resilient. (If you missed it, you can watch the debate here http://westsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/home)

We’ve got a exemplary model of working here that, I believe, should remain and be championed. Politicians from all our political parties agreed that today and so we stood together to launch our ‘Safer in our Hands’ campaign.

This campaign is important to me because, as I wrote yesterday, if you truly believe in something and know it to be right, it’s a cause worth standing up and speaking for.

Our fire service sits at the heart of our Communities and Public Protection Directorate.

It will always be well known and respected for its emergency response, but its key focus as part of this council team is to prevent and protect, rather than simply providing an emergency service when things go wrong.

Crews work across towns and parishes in the county identifying older residents who are isolated so that they can get the support they need to stay independent. They work with Trading Standards to help address the growing problem of scams, provide schemes to help young people in times of trouble and step in to support communities to prevent problems like flooding.

They also carry out thousands of home fire safety checks every single year and visit hundreds of schools.
All that prevention work could be lost if the service is taken over by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

Katy Bourne sat in our council chamber today and heard the impassioned pleas from our politicians about the difference this service makes to the lives of our residents day in and day out. I hope she listens.

I’m determined to do all I can to keep our fire service and was delighted this was supported today.

So I’m calling on all our residents and communities to join me, to join us, in making the case for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to remain where it can have the greatest impact on our residents’ lives.

If you feel the same way, please support me.


Thank you.
 
Louise. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Why I believe West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service should remain with us

There are some things that stay with you throughout life. For me, one of them is if you truly believe in something and know it to be right, it’s a cause worth standing up and speaking for.

That’s why I am really looking forward to our Fire and Rescue Service Debate at our full council meeting tomorrow (Friday). Back in 2011 there were talks between East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to explore merging to become one county wide service.

We had looked at it previously and, yes, there were some merits. But in the end, because of a technical tax matter that could not be resolved by Government, the merger never proceeded.

But we didn’t just carry on as before. At the time we were developing our community work and we seized an opportunity to do something different.

We incorporated our Fire and Rescue Service into the heart of our county council to help us make a positive difference to residents’ lives -  not just in the way we responded to 999 calls but in the work we could do directly with communities and residents around prevention of fires and accidents in the first place.

They were already doing a fantastic piece of work helping communities to protect themselves against flooding (for which we have become one of the leading examples in the country), why not expand and develop?

That’s exactly what we have be doing so successfully over the last 3 years. So now our Fire and Rescue Service are totally integrated into the day to day work of the council – indeed the fire service sits at the heart of our Communities and Public Protection Directorate.

Of course we will always be there for people in times of need, but the service now works directly with communities preventing fires and accidents, making them stronger, safer and more resilient.

Fire crews and officers also work across our towns and parishes identifying older residents who are isolated so that they can get the support they need to stay independent.

They work with Trading Standards to help address the growing problem of scams, provide schemes to help young people in times of trouble, carry out thousands of home fire safety checks every single year to keep people safer in their homes and visit hundreds of schools.

And, while we might not have merged with East Sussex five years ago, we have continued to work with our colleagues across the border exploiting opportunities to become more efficient. We now have a joint emergency Contact Centre that covers East and West Sussex – the fact that it’s shared and jointly run has meant a good saving for East and West Sussex residents whilst still providing a really good service. We continue to drive out further savings for our tax payers through collaborative work.

But the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has informed us she will commission a business case to look at whether there’s a case to take over the running of our fire and rescue service.

For me, the bigger and most important business case is for the communities we serve, the communities we care for, the helping hand that we give, the reassuring word, the advice we give which helps our residents every day. That’s the business case I believe is right and that’s the one I think we should all stand up for.

I have been so privileged and humbled by seeing close up the dedicated work that our Fire and Rescue Service does in so many ways across the County.

I have seen the difference they make – and that’s why I believe and will continue to make the case that West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service remain at the heart of your County Council.

That’s the subject of our debate at Full Council tomorrow. You can watch it live here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Why I’m encouraging everyone to have their say about the Highways England proposals to improve the A27 at Chichester

After a very long wait, I am pleased to say that today Highways England has published a number of different ways improvements to the A27 at Chichester could be made and launched the start of a 10-week public consultation that asks people their views.

We’ve campaigned for years, decades in fact, about the need for this vital trunk road to be given the sort of investment from government that recognises its importance to the economic prosperity of our county.

There are now five multi-million pound options before us all to consider.

Over the next 10 weeks, Highways England will hold 14 public exhibitions across the Chichester area where people can find out more about each of the different proposals and the effect they might have. These exhibitions are really important as it allows everyone to study the plans for the five options and speak to the consultants who will be in attendance and available to answer questions or explain the rationale behind the options.

So please, please get involved, go to the exhibitions, study the options consider what is on offer make your views known by giving your feedback . If you think none of them are right for Chichester, tell Highways England – your views are important.

We know that although these proposals relate to how the junctions at Chichester could be improved, the impact of better traffic flow along this stretch of the road will touch many people, businesses and families who live outside of the district as well. So, please if you can, let them know about it too.

For those who are wondering about the Arundel and Worthing sections of the A27 – they are not forgotten. Highways England are currently working on options open to them and we understand will be consulting late Spring 2017.

This is very much the first stage.

Behind the scenes we’ve worked hard with Highways England to negotiate this 10-week public consultation.

Usually these types of consultations are only open for six weeks but we  knew residents were concerned about a six-week consultation and we really didn’t feel that gave people enough time to fully consider the proposals and come to an informed view about which one, if any, they might support.

Our role, as West Sussex County Council, is now much like yours. We will fully scrutinise each of the different options put forward and make our official response to Highways England like everyone else.

You can get more information on the Highways England website about the options, public exhibitions, and how you can make your views known.
 
Best wishes,
Louise

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Why the decision has been taken to close Rydon Community College

In life we all have to make decisions whether in business or our personal lives, which we know will have an effect on others. Some of these decisions are very big and some are easier than others.

I spent the weekend reviewing paperwork relating to several consultations and considering a decision that needed to be made about the future of Rydon Community College.

Some of you will be aware that we have proposed to close Rydon Community College and open a second site of Steyning Grammar School for Year 7 and 8 pupils in September 2017. We’d do this in part of the current Rydon Community College Campus in Rock Road, Storrington.

The proposal marks the final stage of a reorganisation of schools in Storrington and the surrounding areas – or the STARS area, as it is known locally – to bring it in line with the rest of the county and indeed the country.

The area is the last remaining place in West Sussex where schools are not organised in line with the Key Stages of the National Curriculum.

Children who attend schools in this area go on to secondary education at the age of 10 rather than 11. Elsewhere pupils transfer to secondary schools at the end of Key Stage 2 (11 years old).  That means that crucial blocks of learning – the Key Stages – are disrupted by pupils having to change schools. Something which we know puts children at a disadvantage.

We’ve already taken the decision to move Year 6 to First Schools, therefore creating Primary Schools, and to relocate Thakeham Primary School to the Rydon site.

However, a final decision on whether to close Rydon still needed to be made.

This is a decision I was not expecting to take as it would normally fall to the Cabinet Member for Education. But due to his illness, under the Council’s constitution, the decision falls to me.

As you might expect, as Leader of the Council I have regular briefings on issues affecting all areas of the Council’s business and I always discuss key decisions such as this with the relevant Cabinet Member.

I have been very involved in this process and have spoken at length to the Cabinet Member for Education many times for his valuable input.

I have also looked very carefully at all the information which has been submitted, not just during this formal representation period, but also throughout the whole consultation period, which has spanned the last 18 months.

I have considered all the views and opinions put forward and I still strongly believe that our proposals will offer the best future education system for young people in Storrington and the surrounding areas.

It is for this reason that I am endorsing the proposal and, therefore, Rydon Community College will close with effect from 31 August 2017.

I accept that Rydon is much loved by many people in the community and there are really strong feelings and many people will be very disappointed by the news.

That is why I personally went on Monday to meet with the headteacher and governors at Rydon, together with our Chief Executive, Nathan Elvery. It was important to me that I was able to explain in person why we will now be taking forward our proposal to close the school.

I do need to make it clear that although the decision is to close Rydon, there will still be secondary education available for pupils in Storrington. And, as over 80 per cent of the students currently at Rydon go onto Steyning Grammar School, for many there will be no significant change.

So why was this necessary?

Others may ask why not defer the decision until the Cabinet Member for Education is back and that is a fair challenge. However, I believe that this would only provide an unnecessary level of uncertainty and that is certainly not fair to the children.

I have every confidence that this is the right model to be adopting and it will help give children in the area the best start in life.

However I need to reassure everyone that the County Council will be supporting the school and pupils over the next year as the transition takes place. We have written to parents and to pupils explaining the changes and setting out what happens next.

Now is the time to look to the future not the past and I absolutely believe this reorganisation will offer an improved education, not only to current pupils but also to future generations.
 
Best wishes,
Louise.