Fire chiefs say 2020 financial picture is 'better than feared' - but struggles remain

Cleveland fire chiefs have said the financial picture for next year is ‘better than they feared’ after revealing how they plan to balance the budget.

Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 4:45 pm
Cleveland Fire Brigade HQ
Cleveland Fire Brigade HQ

The latest meeting of Cleveland Fire Authority looked at the financial plans for 2020/21 and beyond.

Officers said the fire authority will be looking to increase its council tax proportion by 1.9% for 2020/21, which equates to a 98p total annual increase for Band A properties and £1.47 for Band D properties.

The increase will allow the fire authority to protect whole time firefighter posts and report a balanced budget for the coming year.

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Officers also noted how Cleveland has the lowest proportion of funding from council tax in the country and has been subject to numerous cuts this decade, which have a greater impact compared to more affluent areas.

Chris Little, Cleveland Fire treasurer, said: “Cleveland has the lowest proportion of its funding that it pulls from council tax, and that really reflects the fact we have what’s referred to as a low tax base, most of our houses are in the lower council tax bands.

“Authorities in more affluent areas haven’t had to deal with the same budget challenges as this authority has had to deal with.

“We think we’ll get additional funding from the government for next year, our plans previously had anticipated a reduction.

“We’ve got a one year spending review, it’s helpful, it’s better than we feared earlier in the year, we should get an increase in funding for next year, but obviously it’s not enough to fully address the authorities needs.”

Reports also noted a 1% increase in council tax for Cleveland Fire raises around £118,000, but the authority that raises the most income from council tax nationwide can raise £238,000 with a 1% increase.

It was also noted between 75 and 80% of the budget is spent on salary costs, meaning less funding would mean less firefighters.

The brigade has seen a 36% reduction in the number of whole time firefighter posts from 518 in 2010/11 to 330 in 2019/20.

Councillors on the fire authority pointed to the cuts in funding from the government in recent years.

Coun Luke Frost, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council representative, said: “It’s there in the background information, it states clear and simple that this authority, the same as every other authority around the country has had reductions from government and that comes down to one party.”

Coun Teresa Higgins, Middlesbrough Council representative, said they need to raise council tax to ‘make sure the fire authority is still the best and not in debt’.