Bucks fire service freezes its precept but warns future tax hikes may be necessary

A Bucks Fire and Rescue fire engine and, below, Mark Jones
A Bucks Fire and Rescue fire engine and, below, Mark Jones
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The amount of council tax used to pay for Bucks’ fire services is to be frozen in 2013/14.

Bucks and Milton Keynes Fire Authority backed the measure yesterday (Wednesday), meaning the Band D charge will remain at £59.13 a year.

Chief fire officer at Bucks Fire and Rescue - Mark Jones

Chief fire officer at Bucks Fire and Rescue - Mark Jones

Members had the choice of freezing council tax and accepting a £177,000 grant or increasing the precept by up to 8.46% - the equivalent of a £5 a year hike for Band D homes.

Councillors decided to ask the fire service to manage with fewer resources rather than ‘unduly burden taxpayers who are already hard-hit’.

Chief Fire Officer Mark Jones accepted the decision, but warned future freezes could hit services.

Mr Jones said: “My senior managers have shown flair and some ingenuity in seeking ways to work better in future. The result is that, despite budget reductions, we have ensured that vital safety services in emergency response are not affected in the short term.

“However, continued council tax freezes, with the seemingly likely continued grant reductions from the government, will have a detrimental impact upon our ability to provide the same level of emergency response in the future.”

Councillor Andy Dransfield, lead member on financial affairs, said: “We took this step in recognition of the tough times people are enduring as we didn’t want to add to the hardship they already face.

“Bucks and Milton Keynes Fire Authority faces a difficulty budgetary position in 2015/16 and 2016/17, which made the opportunity of a £5 rise an attractive option for the future. However, the excellent work undertaken by the chief fire officer and his team means that we have a balanced budget for the next two years.

“I fear the cold chill of further grant reductions in future years and what that might mean for the public if we are forced to reduce services.”

Councillor Adrian Busby, the authority’s chairman, said he would be asking the fire minister to ensure a £5 council tax increase would be available to hard-hit authorities in the future.

Mr Busby said: “We want to end up with the leanest, most efficient and operationally resilient set-up we can.

“We saw the hard times coming and started to reduce our costs almost three years ago. We recognise that this has not been without some difficult changes for the service and I would like to pay tribute to all of the men and women who work tirelessly to make people safer in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. Thanks to their dedication and efforts, this will continue to be a high-performing, low-cost, service.

“We too are concerned over continued Government grant cuts and we feel that the Government should give all fire authorities the same proportion of grant.”