Cleveland Fire Authority to face most ‘uncertain financial position’ to date

Cleveland Fire Authority is to face its most ‘uncertain financial position’ to date following the impact of issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic, according to finance chiefs.

Monday, 28th September 2020, 9:01 pm
Updated Monday, 28th September 2020, 9:01 pm
The finances were discussed at a meeting of the Cleveland Fire Authority.

Bosses at Cleveland Fire Brigade noted the financial challenges stemming from the coronavirus outbreak are just some of the uncertainties the authority is having to deal with.

However plans have been drawn up for managing the potential financial issues, boosted by the authority being on track for a £500,000 underspend for the current year.

Treasurer Chris Little said more households will become eligible for local council tax support and it is estimated there will be a council tax collection fund deficit of around 5% due to the financial impact of Covid-19.

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He noted Government finance changes mean council tax now makes up 46% of the authority’s funding, compared to 32% in 2013/14.

It was also noted the forecast budget deficit for 2021/22 and 2022/23 has increased from previous estimates, from £446,000 to £547,000

Other areas of uncertainty include awaiting the outcome of the Government 2020 Spending Review and the impact of delayed major reforms of the funding system until 2022/23.

It comes after the service has seen a nine years of reductions in Government funding which resulted in a 36% reduction in the number of whole time firefighter posts from 518 to 330.

However Mr Little noted the authority has a ‘good level of reserves’ and he recommended reserves and the budget support fund are used to tackle the financial difficulties.

He added the authority had ‘planned ahead’ in anticipation of financial challenges, meaning there is currently £4.9million in the budget support fund and collection fund deficit reserve, with further funds expected to be added this year.

Speaking at the Cleveland Fire Authority executive committee, he said: “This is most certainly the most uncertain financial position the authority has ever faced.

“What we’re suggesting is that we take the money from the budget support fund. The rationale for that is there is so much uncertainty and otherwise we could potentially be making cuts you don’t need to make.

“Probably more importantly the chief fire officer and his senior management team have probably got enough to deal with in terms of supporting the Covid response and keeping services running normally.

“To add on top of that having to identify savings before the start of next year wouldn’t seem appropriate.”

Mr Little noted this comes on the back of Cleveland Fire Authority previously managing nine consecutive years of reductions in Government funding from 2011/12 to 2019/20.

This resulted in a 36% reduction in the number of whole time firefighter posts from 518 to 330.

In recent months the authority has also received Government grant funding of £587,000 to meet the additional costs of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Officers estimated it is anticipated the funding should be sufficient to meet the expenditure impact of Covid-19 so far.

Cllr Mary Ovens, Redcar and Cleveland representative on the committee, added the authority is doing ‘the best we can’ given the uncertainty.

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