A Government budget announcement was issued to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) on December 20 and contained higher levels of enforced savings than anticipated.
The announcement stated that CFRS must make £600,000 worth of additional savings in 2013/14, over and above those anticipated.
Also, it is still unclear how much must be saved the following year (2014/15).
Clearly this increased pressure presents Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority (CPFA) with a significant challenge of balancing the books, while protecting frontline services.
One option that has been presented by the Government is the opportunity to raise council tax levels for lean fire authorities above the capping limit of two per cent, up to a maximum £5 increase on an average Band D property per year.
CPFA was one of only eight fire authorities to be given this option, as it has been recognised that it is a low cost fire authority.
The CPFA’s resources committee has approved this increase in principal, but the final decision will be taken at the next Fire Authority meeting in February, following public consultation.
If this is approved, the additional income generated will offset the increased savings caused by the lower grant settlement.
This would mean that the CPFA would not be faced with pressure to reduce frontline service to members of the public.
Therefore, the savings could be made, as planned, through the following:
– Removal of 35 non-operational posts
– Decrease in non-operational budgets
– Removal of five officer posts
– Removal of 25 firefighter posts through natural wastage by implementing a new shift system for wholetime firefighters
– The formation of a new Combined Fire Control, which takes 999 calls for both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk
– Removal of Hazmat Unit
– Removal of an Operational Support Unit
– Removal of two Turntable Ladders
Graham Stagg, chief fire officer for CFRS said: “We essentially find ourselves in a position of uncertainty and now have to find more savings than originally anticipated.
“However, the Government has recognised that we are one of the lowest cost fire and rescue services and due to this, it has offered us a way out, but only by increasing council tax levels by about 9.6p per week.
“If this is agreed by the public and Fire Authority, this would balance our books and would mean that we could continue with our current saving plans, with minimal impact to the frontline and the public.
“We do, however, need to be aware that the reductions in public spending in the UK are not going away and there are more cuts planned after 2015.
“What is important to stress is that the savings made so far have not been made easily and have caused a considerable amount of pain to CFRS.
“It has meant redundancies, shift changes and a reduction in our capacity, meaning improvements to our Service will be slower than in recent years.
“I would like to thank staff and unions for the way in which they have responded to the challenges which we have faced over the past two years and remain confident about the way we will approach future challenges.”
For all the latest news see tomorrow’s (Thursday, January 3) Echo.