Former judge ‘horrified’ by North Yorkshire fire service’s financial outlook

Photo: North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

A retired district judge has spoken of his horror at the financial position a fire service for 824,000 people is facing due to years of years of chronic underfunding.

Martin Walker, an independent member of North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel, was speaking after it emerged the service would need to borrow the majority of the £31m needed over the next five years to maintain and update its buildings and equipment.

Chief financial officer Michael Porter told the meeting while the national settlement would enable standalone fire services to increase their core spending power by 4.7 per cent,  North Yorkshire and York’s would mean an increase of only 4.1 per cent, the third lowest in the country.

The difference between the country’s best settlement and North Yorkshire and York’s would be worth about £400,000, Mr Porter said.

Alongside the cost of having to provide services across England’s largest county, the service is battling staffing shortages, crumbling buildings and out of date vehicles.

The meeting was told the fire service was looking to “revolutionise” the way the service was provided, looking at “different staffing models, different vehicles and different locations”.

Senior fire officers said there was not an element of the service which was not being scrutinised for potential savings.

However, the panel heard while the country’s lowest eight spending fire services had been granted consent to levy a £5 increase on their council tax demand, the government had stated North Yorkshire and York service’s precept would be limited to a 1.99 per cent  increase.

The meeting was told the maximum rise was equivalent to £1.43 a week for a Band D property, so the residents would only be charged 3p more a week.

Mr Porter said a consultation on potential council tax charges for next year had seen about 70 per cent of 2,100 responses back an increase in precept.

Mr Walker, an independent member of the panel, said: “I have to say I’m horrified, if that’s not too strong a word, where the fire service is going to be.

“It’s in desperate need of a capital injection, of renewing stations, renewing fire engines, renewing all sorts of infrastructure and you’re talking about having to borrow within two or three years £30m.

“I hesitate to say this, but God help us. The fire service is fighting so hard to provide the service the public need and yet what you’re telling us is that it’s going to get worse, and then it’s going to get worse and after that it will get worse.”

Michael Porter, the chief finance officer, said the best reassurance he could give was that the service was aware of the problems.

Veteran Malton councillor Lindsay Burr then described the service’s financial outlook as “the grimmest statistics I’ve ever heard”.

Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe added she had been lobbying the government and North Yorkshire and York’s MP’s very hard, questioning the rationale behind restricting the precept and calling for more flexibility.

She said: “It doesn’t seem very fair so I am fighting very hard for a fairer funding formula for North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service.”

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