North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is not sustainable unless changes are made, says the new North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.
Julia Mulligan said an emergency budget will now be drawn up to address the “double whammy of a reduction in funding and increase in costs” which she said had previously been plugged from reserves.
The commissioner was speaking after taking control of the fire service, as well as the county’s police service, a move which has not been popular with some at North Yorkshire County Council.
She has published an independent report on the current state of the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service which was written by former Oxfordshire chief fire officer Dave Etheridge.
The report found a number of issues including an unsustainable financial position and a reliance on reserves to plug the financial gap, no comprehensive Emergency response strategy including a promise to the public concerning the total time taken to reach an incident after and 999 call is received.
The report stated that virtually every other fire and rescue service had a response standard against which it was measured.
The document also concluded that industrial relations were “challenging due to the complexity of various projects and initiatives and the lack of process”.
The need for buildings and furnishings to be replaced or refurbished was also identified.
Among the strengths identified were the “impressive” record of reduction in fires and other emergencies over many years.
Mrs Mulligan said she would now consider the recommendations of the report in detail and said she was making a commitment to “ensure service continued to keep residents and businesses safe with an organisation that is both of high quality and sustainable”.
Her plans include a finance working group to identify savings, set an emergency budget and enable the service to live within its means which will be asked to report before the end of March 2019.
The commissioner said she would also work with the leadership, firefighters and staff to develop a long-term fundamental service review, covering all strategic aspects of the service.
She said the process of change would be “completely transparent and accessible, with proposals subject to informal round table discussions, full consultation and decisions not taken behind closed doors”.
She said: “We have incredibly hardworking firefighters and staff in North Yorkshire. Over recent weeks I have met with many of them, spoken with them and listened to their views. I will continue to do this now the transfer of governance has taken place.
“In the meetings I have been struck by their willingness to look at how we can work together to develop a Fire and Rescue Service that is fit for the future, and I am committed to ensuring everyone is fully involved in these discussions. They know what works, they know the challenge, they understand that the service will need to change.
“The transfer of responsibility for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been controversial, but today’s independent report shows in stark terms why it is so important for there to be a proper, transparent plan to ensure the service has a strong and sustainable future. This is not the case at present and the challenge I inherit is significant.
“What’s more, there have been opportunities address the double whammy of a reduction in funding and increase in costs, yet the shortfall has been covered by using reserves. As the independent report finds, this was an unusual approach and not sustainable. It can’t go on – every day the amount in those reserves goes down, every day they get closer to running out.
“As a result of the financial pressures, and decisions previously being put off, I need to be up front in saying that tough decisions will have to be made. This means we will all need to pull together, so they are made in a way that ensures people and businesses across York and North Yorkshire remain safe and feeling safe in the future.”