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Tuesday
20  February

Fire service budget hike to hit county council

 
08/12/2023 @ 01:22

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service has asked Powys County Council for an extra £1.090 million for the next financial year.

This equates to a 9.4 per cent hike in the levy, but the final figures will be worked out after the Welsh Government announces the allocation of revenue support grant to each of the 22 local authorities in Wales just before Christmas.

At a meeting of Powys County Council on Thursday, fire service chiefs explained why they need to increase their levy again this year.

The levy is set to rise by £5.889 million to £68.554 million in 2024/2025.

Powys’ share of the costs is set to go up from £9.081 million this year to £10.171 million next year.

The funding hike would partly be covered by a contribution from the Welsh Government coming through the local authorities funding allocations, but around £700,000 would need to be found from the council’s own coffers.

This equates to a 0.33 per cent increase on contribution from the total Powys budget.

This is the largest hike of the six authorities that are in the fire service area, which are Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, and Neath Port Talbot.

The increase was supposed to be 7.6 per cent, revaluation to fire fighters pension fund  has caused the revised figure of 9.4 per cent to materialise.

The Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority which oversees the running of the fire service is currently chaired by Powys County Councillor for Llansantffraid, Conservative Cllr Gwynfor Thomas.

He assured council that member of the fire authority had “given a real good challenge” to the budget figures.

Liberal Democrat cabinet member for a learning Powys, Cllr Pete Roberts said that the council is “expecting” a three per cent increase in Welsh Government funding for next year.

Cllr Roberts said: “You are asking us to add approximately £700,000 on top of what we would get in additional from Welsh Government.

“You say you are a small component of the (Powys) budget – but so is planning so is highways and our protected services.”

Cllr Roberts said that if the fire service was treated as a council department they would have needed to find savings to trim their budget down to three per cent.

He claimed that the council would have to look again at departmental budgets to find more savings or add “somewhere between” 0.5 and one per cent onto next year’s Council Tax bills.

Fire service section 151 officer, Sarah Mansbridge, said: “It is very difficult. We are a very different type of statutory service; we have very little discretionary areas. We can change service delivery but we’re talking about closing stations and whether we would be able to respond to emergencies.”

Chief fire officer Roger Thomas explained that they could close fire stations but the emergency calls “would still come.”

Mr Thomas said: “What you are then doing is mobilising from a further distance and a fire has more time to take hold or the road traffic collision will take longer to attend.”

Deputy council leader, Cllr Matthew Dorrance said: “We feel quite strongly that this is an unreasonable ask.

“I don’t think there’s been any real pace behind the need to transform or change or find savings before you come to us.”

He wondered if the fire service staffing model is right and whether it would be better to have full time stations rather than so many that are staffed by retained fire fighters.

Mr Thomas explained that each fully staffed fire station costs around £1.3 million while a retained station would be around £150,000. and that resources were put where the highest risk is identified –  such as near Tata Steelworks in Port Talbot.

“To put full time stations in Powys would be a very costly overprovision,” said Mr Thomas.

Council vice-chairman Conservative Cllr Jonny Wilkinson added: “We do appreciate your work and we don’t want to see your ability to respond in a prompt and timely manner compromised.”

 

 

 

 

By Elgan Hearn, Local Democracy Reporting Service