Campaigners question £29,000 fee for cuts consultation

Sudbury's protest against the loss of the town's second fire engine. ANL-151027-135656009
Sudbury's protest against the loss of the town's second fire engine. ANL-151027-135656009
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A campaign group against the removal of Sudbury’s second fire engine have questioned Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) spending £29,000 on a public consultation on the cuts.

The county’s fire service have employed an outside body to carry out and correlate responses from the county-wide consultation on the £1.3million cuts the service is proposing.

In Sudbury it has been proposed that the second fire engine should be replaced with a rapid response vehicle, though there is no figure on how much this would cost or how many jobs would be lost.

SFRS estimates a saving of £35,000 from the removal of the second engine.

Sudbury and Cornard Against Fire Cuts has expressed its disappointed to having to do what “Suffolk County Council should be doing”, in publicising the consultation and public meetings on the matter.

A spokesman for the group said financial figures showed an outside agency had been paid £29,000 to help advise on the consultation.

He added: “£29,000 that could have been spent on paying people to directly engage with the public. This is in addition to the wages of Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service employees working on the project.”

A spokesman for SFRS said: “The formal Integrated Risk Management Plan consultation we are currently undertaking is being carried out in line with Government guidance and county council policy. The consultation is a very important process for us and we are obliged to ensure that this is robust, effective and meaningful.

“Opinion Research Services (ORS) have been asked to provide independent expert guidance to assist us with the consultation. They have experience and expertise in public consultations and are able to help us ensure the consultation is carried out properly, fairly and that this is unbiased.

“With around four weeks to the end of the consultation, there have been around 1,500 questionnaires returned and approaching 200 other enquiries received. We expect this number to increase significantly up to the point the consultation closes on February 22.

“Collating, managing and reporting on the consultation feedback is a complicated and time consuming job and we want to get this right. We had estimated that this may have taken an extra two or three officers to complete this work if we had not asked for assistance.

“We expect ORS to cost approximately £29,000. However, this includes them creating an online consultation questionnaire and hosting this on their website, monitoring and collating all of the online and postal responses received, organising and running 6 consultation meetings with the public and analysing, collating and reporting on all of the consultation feedback.

“We have made plans to pay for the consultation exercise using funds which would otherwise have paid for a senior manager post, which has been left vacant on purpose to cover these costs.

“Our interest remains in achieving value for money for the public in the work we do but also ensuring that we are able to carry out a proper, fair and effective consultation.”

So far campaigners have collected more than 1,000 responses opposing the cuts.

A meeting on the cuts which will is expected to be attended by Suffolk County Council cabinet members takes place at Sudbury Town Hall on Wednesday, February 3 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.