The new governor of a fire service has launched an action plan to rescue the brigade from going bust, and has warned the public must pay more to maintain frontline services.
North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who took on governance of the fire service two weeks ago, said she had launched an immediate action plan to address “very significant financial challenges” facing the county’s fire service.
Appearing before North Yorkshire County Council’s corporate scrutiny committee, she said the pressures included a £3.5m black hole and highlighted concerns the service could also face a potential annual increase in employer costs for pensions of £1.5m.
Mrs Mulligan said: “Day-to-day services are being paid for out of reserves.
“The reserves are in a fairly challenging state. If we continue to spend the amount of money they are at the moment the service will be bust by 2023.
“We are going to have to look very closely at what the service is spending and reduce that drain on reserves.”
She said even with measures such as merging police and fire back office departments, reviewing all contracts, extending the life of vehicles and cutting senior brigade officer salaries “it was inevitable that we are still going to be faced with a black hole”.
She said she had alerted policing minister Nick Hurd and local government minister and Richmond MP Rishi Sunak to the issues and had pressed for the 2.99 per cent increase cap on the fire service council tax levy to be lifted.
The commissioner said she was “absolutely certain the public would be prepared to pay more” for the fire service than it does because the cost was relatively small – £86 for the average band D home.
A public consultation exercise to consider how much more residents would be prepared to pay will be launched later this week.
Mrs Mulligan said with an extra £5 from the average council taxpayer, the service would receive £2,250,000 more, which “would go some way to making the fire service more sustainable”.
She said it had been suggested the Government was considering allowing police precept increases to be doubled and said she “would like them to do the equivalent for the fire service as they have done for the police”.
The committee’s chairman, Councillor Derek Bastiman, questioned whether Mrs Mulligan’s predecessor, the fire authority, had been instructed by the Government to use its reserves.
Mrs Mulligan replied: “What the Government has said is that it is not minded to provide the fire service with any additional funding whilst its sitting on a great pile of reserves.
“In North Yorkshire we are sitting on a relatively small amount of reserves and they are getting smaller. This puts us in a really difficult position, particularly with regard to the potential threat around pensions. If the pensions issue hits us, and we’re not sure what the extent of that will be, could be very serious for North Yorkshire.”
After the meeting, chairman of watchdog North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel, Councillor Carl Les, said: “I know the previous fire authority were also concerned about fire expenses going forward so I look forward to the commissioner coming to the next Police, Fire and Crime Panel when we will be able to explore these issues in more detail.”