South Yorkshire fire crews are challenging the need for savage frontline cuts that could still go ahead despite fire authority budget chiefs backing a 3.95% council tax rise for the fire service. A fire authority meeting on 26 March will consider proposals to close 4 fire stations, axe five fire appliances and see the loss of 140 frontline firefighter posts â€“ one in five frontline posts.
South Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union say the cuts canâ€™t be justified after last yearâ€™s underspend of Â£2 million and with Â£15 million banked in cash reserves. The reserves account for 25% of the authorityâ€™s annual revenue budget, far in excess of reserves held by local councils.
The fire authority has said the rise in the council tax raised by the fire authority â€“ known as a pre-cept – will not halt the savage cuts being proposed. The decision of the budget meeting appears to have tied the hands of the full authority at its meeting on 26 March.
South Yorkshire FBU brigade secretary John Gilliver said: â€œAt public consultation meetings people made clear they were prepared to back a council tax increase if it prevented frontline cuts. The budget meeting has put forward plans it expects to be rubber stamped that will see people paying more and getting a much reduced service.
â€œThis is a disgrace, these cuts are not necessary. There was an underspend last year of Â£2 million and the reserves are awash with cash.
â€œThe fire authority could fill the budget gap created by central Government grant cuts with part of the reserves over the next three years. The annual budget is just under Â£60 million and weâ€™re holding reserves of Â£15 million â€“ 25% of the revenue budget.
â€œUsing part of the reserves to plug the gap would still leave more than enough in the reserves. It would still leave fire authority reserves higher as a percentage of the annual budget than the reserves currently held by nearby local councils.â€
John Gilliver 07974083381