FBU on the streets: Precept increase could prevent frontline cuts

FIREFIGHTERS will be on the streets of Huntingdonshire this Saturday to give residents their say on money-saving cuts to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Representatives from the Fire Brigades Union and the campaign group Save Cambs Fire will be offering taxpayers the chance to vote on a Council Tax increase that the union believes could prevent frontline cuts.

They will be in Huntingdon High Street from 10am until 1pm, and hope to have a presence in all major towns across the county.

The four-question tick-box questionnaire asks the public if they consider the fire service value for money, if they feel cuts would put them at risk and if other solutions should be considered.

It also asks if taxpayers would be happy to pay more Council Tax to make up the funding shortfall.

The fire service is allowed to increase its precept by up to 3.5 per cent annually, but plans to raise it by 2.5 per cent for the next four years.

The FBU says that using the maximum precept increase would yield an additional �150,000 in the first year, and more than �600,000 by year four – and each year would add about four pence a week for the owner of a benchmark Band D property.

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Phil McQuillen, chairman of the FBU in Cambridgeshire, said: “Nobody likes to hear of Council Tax going up but, when we consider the small amount that would enable us to keep frontline services as they are, we don’t think it’s a big thing to ask.”

When firefighters took to the streets in May, before the last fire authority meeting, they collected more than 2,200 signatures opposing the downgrading of Huntingdon fire station.

“The possibility of Huntingdon being downgraded to day crewed plus was the big frightener, so I think people understand the issues in Huntingdon, but it’s possible that in other areas they are not so sure what the cuts will mean – this weekend will be a chance to explain,” added Mr McQuillen.

The questionnaire results will be collated and presented to fire authority members before the next meeting on October 13.

The fire authority will consider the results of feasibility studies commissioned in May, and decide whether to conduct another batch.

CFRS has already identified �4.2m of savings it believes will have minimal frontline impact, but chief fire officer Graham Stagg warned last week that the service would face “uncomfortable decisions” if the worst-case scenario of a �6m shortfall was realised.

INFORMATION: See www.savecambsfire.org.uk to have your say on the proposed changes to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.