Fair funding for Shropshire

Shropshire must get fair funding from the Government to run its fire and rescue service, says Shropshire & Wrekin Fire Authority.

A campaign to lobby Ministers gained momentum as it was revealed that a small increase in Government grant could freeze the portion of council tax paid to fund Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Councillor Stuart West, chair of the Fire Authority, today appealed for people to write to their local MP to demand fair funding for the county fire brigade.

It gets an “unfair deal” from the Government compared to other brigades because the rural 455,000 population is spread over 1,235 square miles.

Similarly sized Humberside is more densely populated but gets £28.60 per head of population compared to just £16.60 for Shropshire, revealed Councillor Stuart West, chair of the fire authority which is continuing to lobby the Government to get the extra cost of running rural fire services included in the grant for the first time.

Councillor West and Chief Fire Officer Paul Raymond have visited Westminster four times in the past 18 months to highlight the unfairness of the formula that distributes tax money to all fire authorities across England. They are increasingly hopeful that the Government will recognise the extra costs of delivering emergency services in rural areas.

“We have set out our case to the Fire Minister and he is very sympathetic to our plea to ensure fairness for people living in rural areas,” Councillor West said.

“The facts of funding are very stark with a service like ours in Shropshire and Telford receiving just £16.60 per head of population whilst more densely populated areas like Humberside get £28.60.

“Just £2 extra grant per head of population from Government would mean we could continue to deliver our service and ask for less money from local tax payers.

“We are asking local households to pay 5p per week more for the service this year but we believe that a fairer funding of rural services would ensure that local tax payers were not continually hit in the pocket.”

Densely populated areas get huge amounts of extra money to provide fire services whereas no more money is allocated for the significant extra costs of delivering the emergency service in places like Shropshire.

In an exercise to demonstrate how much extra it costs to deliver services in Shropshire, Mr West showed Ministers that if all far flung buildings across the county were brought together into “Salop City” the cost of delivering the emergency service would drop by over £6 million each year reducing council tax for local households by almost £29 per year.

“The geography of our area costs local tax payers because the extra demand on our budget is not recognised in the current funding formula,” said Councillor West.

“Our local MPs have been very supportive and we hope that the Government will resist the lobby of cities and finally recognise that rurality costs local tax payers.”

Mr West is aware that there is no extra money in the Fire Service ‘pot’ but said ‘it’s not about asking for the impossible – to increase money for all fire services - but about Government finally ensuring that rural areas such as Shropshire get the fair share of central funding.

“I would ask local people to make their views clear to local MPs – that they demand fairer funding for rural fire services.”

Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority will get £7,563,745 this year in government funding but the Authority and its staff will pay £4,072,537 back to government in business rates, income tax and national insurance.

14th March, 2012