Fire authority agrees 5p per week increase in Council Tax

Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority has voted for a 5p per week rise in council tax after demands from the public not to cut front line services.

Five fire stations were in danger of closing with the Fire Authority forced to cut £4 million from its £21 million annual budget over the next four years. A 28 per cent reduction in Government grant and high inflation added to the financial problems.

“We had very difficult choices to make,” said Stuart West, Chair of the Authority.
“We have always taken a long term view of funding and after cutting more than £3 million from our costs we still found that this was not enough.”

The Members of the Authority asked fire-fighters to carry out a wide range consultation exercise in January to gauge the public’s appetite for front line service cuts or tax increases. Working on their day off, fire-fighters talked to people on the streets about their choices.

More than 90 per cent of the almost 1,300 people consulted did not want to see any more cuts to the Service and 76 per cent said that they would be willing to pay 5p per week or more to safeguard their fire station.

“We are very aware that hard working families are feeling the pinch at the moment and that is why we consulted widely on the possibility of increasing our portion of the council tax,” Mr West said.

“We had to balance this concern with the cuts we have already made and those we might have to make and the Members of the Fire Authority concluded that if we increased council tax by 5p per week for the majority of households, that would protect the essential service we provide.”

The Fire and Rescue Service in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin currently costs the majority of taxpaying households £1.20 per week. Council tax was frozen last year.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has 23 fire stations and employs more than 500 firefighters, control room staff and technical and specialist support staff.

Employees were asked for their views on how cuts could be made before brigade managers were cut by 25 per cent, operational officers reduced by a quarter and firefighters and support staff both cut by 10 per cent. Crews for specialist fire and rescue tenders have also been reduced to save money.

One of the country’s lowest financially funded brigade’s, Shropshire has been praised by the Government for being one of the UK’s best run fire and rescue services.

14th February, 2012