Fire brigade 'working miracles' to keep us safe despite gloomy financial times, meeting told

Fire brigade bosses have been praised for ‘working miracles’ for the service they deliver in the face of an ‘uncertain’ financial position.

Monday, 7th October 2019, 2:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 1:31 pm
Stock picture of a firefighter from Pixabay
Stock picture of a firefighter from Pixabay

It came as Cleveland Fire Authority chiefs gave an update to its executive committee regarding its financial plans for the next three years.

The authority is planning for a potential deficit of up to £3.3841million from 2020/21 to 2022/23, due to several uncertainties in national funding decisions.

In 2020/21 the fire authority is set to see a budget increase from government in line with inflation, the first time this has happened in nine years, which will leave an expected deficit of £113,000.

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However fire authority officers said they are unsure whether the level of funding will remain as such for future years, or if they will again face cuts.

They are also awaiting a three year spending review and a decision on whether the fire pension grant funding from government will continue.

Councillors on the committee praised the work of the team for achieving some of the fastest response times and being the best fire service in the country for keeping people safe in their own homes, despite the uncertainty.

Coun Bill Woodhead MBE, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council representative on the committee, said: “I take my hat off to Ian [Hayton, chief fire officer] and his staff, with the budget they have and the money they get they work miracles. We’re innovative as well.”

Finance officers noted 47% of the authority’s resources, just over £12.5million, is made up of government funding.

Treasurer Chris Little said despite the funding boost for 2020/21, there is no certainty for the following years, so reserves need to be maintained in case they are needed.

He said: “It gives us certainty for 2020/21 but thereafter there is no certainty, the government have said they will conduct a fuller three year review during 2020.

“All of the risks that we thought we were managing for 2020/21 have effectively been put back 12 months, they haven’t gone away yet, they’ve just been deferred.

“It’s imperative we keep the reserves for that uncertainty that’s now pushed back for 2021/22.

“Given the financial circumstances the authority has faced we’ve got ourselves in the best position we could have.”

As well as building up its reserves and exploring other ‘efficiency opportunities’ fire authority chiefs are to lobby government and local MPs for a fairer funding review.

Coun Woodhead said: “We’ve been banging the drum for years and no matter who is in government, nobody seems to listen to us.

“The MPs are on our doorstep with the challenges we have here.

“We’ve banged the drum loud enough in the past, but nobody has listened, and it’s about time they did.”