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31-10-17

Funding for Fire and Rescue services needs more flexibility

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is concerned that the current restrictions on funding for Fire and Rescue Services could have a detrimental impact on the delivery of vital services to the communities they serve.
 
These concerns follow NFCC’s response to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Finance Settlement consultation paper, which seeks views on the government’s approach to funding across England.

 Since 2010 the funding from the DCLG to stand-alone fire and rescue services (FRS) has been cut by over a third.

 The NFCC responded to consultation questions which relate directly to Council Tax referendum principles, and also made several points about funding and potential pressure points services are already facing. 

If fire and rescue authorities want to increase Council Tax charges by more than 2 per cent, a referendum with the public would have to be held, at a significant cost to the taxpayer and disproportionate to the potential additional income. 

According to the NFCC, a 2 per cent increase represents a cut in funding for fire and rescue services. As a result, the NFCC is asking the government to apply more flexibility when it comes to Council Tax funding as the police and other local authorities, which have the flexibility to raise the Council Tax  precept by £5 or 2% - whichever is greater.
 
The fire element of the average local authority Council Tax band D bill in stand-alone FRS areas is worth just 5% of the total bill. Even allowing stand-alone FRS to increase their precept by £5 would only increase average local authority council tax band D bills by approximately 0.5%.

The NFCC also believes accountability for any increases should rest with the relevant fire authority, or where applicable, the elected PCC or Mayor. 

CIPFA statistics show between March 2010 and 2016 the total number of whole time firefighter posts in England fell by 19.5%. During the same period the total number of retained firefighters fell by 12.1%. The number of fire safety audits carried out reduced by 25% whilst the number of hours spent on safety checks fell by over a quarter (26%). 

Phil Hales, NFCC Finance Coordination Chair, said: “While fire and rescue services have reformed and made several efficiencies in recent years, NFCC is concerned that further funding reductions are unsustainable.”

“Fire services have integral prevention, protection and response strategies built into their Integrated Risk Management Plans, but we must have a resilient fire service which can respond quickly and efficiently to a wide range of emergencies, based on risk. It is essential the communities we serve have absolute confidence in us to deliver.

“It is important to note that while the number of primary fires fell in the early 2000s, in 2012 the year-on-year reductions began to slow. Since 2013 the number of primary fires has plateaued and we are now seeing this figure increase.

“To date, fire services have managed funding reductions, but they are now at a tipping point where further funding cuts will pose an unacceptable risk to communities. Fire and rescue services need to be resourced for risk – not demand – and we know the threat of disaster and even attack is always with us.
 
“Currently the Council Tax precept for fire services ranges from £57 to £97, while the lowest police precept is £98. I would like to see more flexible principles applied to allow for further investment in fire and rescue services. 

“I and NFCC colleagues are keen to work alongside DCLG and the Home Office to establish a sustainable funding mechanism that would allow us to ensure the services we provide match the expectations of both local communities and the government".

NFCC consultation response

 

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