�5 a year to save fire service

COUNCIL tax payers could be asked to pay an extra �5 a year to save the fire service.

COUNCIL tax payers could be asked to pay an extra �5 a year to save the fire service.

In a blow to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service bosses who have spent years saving millions from their already-tight budget, the Government announced on Thursday that �600,000 MORE would need to be saved in the next financial year. It remains unclear how much will be cut from the county’s funding in 2014/15.

A spokesman for the fire service said the increased pressure from Government “presents Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority with a significant challenge of balancing the books, while protecting frontline services”.

However, one option that has been presented by the Government is the opportunity to raise council tax levels above the capping limit of two per cent - up to a maximum �5 increase on an average Band D property per year. CPFA was one of only eight fire authorities to be given this option, as it has been recognised that it is a low cost fire authority.

The CPFA’s Resources Committee has already approved this increase in principal, but the final decision will be taken at the next Fire Authority meeting in February, following a public consultation. If it is approved, the additional income generated will offset the increased savings caused by the lower grant settlement – and would negate the need to reduce the frontline service to public.

Graham Stagg, chief fire officer for the fire service, said: “We essentially find ourselves in a position of uncertainty and now have to find more savings than originally anticipated. However, the Government has recognised that we are one of the lowest cost fire and rescue services and due to this, it has offered us a way out, but only by increasing council tax levels by about 9.6p per week.

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“If this is agreed by the public and Fire Authority, this would balance our books and would mean that we could continue with our current saving plans, with minimal impact to the frontline and the public.”

He continued: “We do, however, need to be aware that the reductions in public spending in the UK are not going away and there are more cuts planned after 2015.

“What is important to stress is that the savings made so far have not been made easily and have caused a considerable amount of pain to the service. It has meant redundancies, shift changes and a reduction in our capacity, meaning improvements to our service will be slower than in recent years.

“I would like to thank staff and unions for the way in which they have responded to the challenges which we have faced over the past two years and remain confident about the way we will approach future challenges.”

The fire service’s senior management team has been working to save �4.3million from its budget since the comprehensive spending review in 2010. The savings had been made with minimal impact on fire cover in the county but the loss of more than half-a-million pounds than initially anticipated threatens to force bosses into making tougher decisions.

If the fire authority votes against a council tax increase, it could mean the loss of one of the county’s rescue vehicles and fire engines in Ramsey and St Ives.