Plymouth region's fire service faces debt spiralling to £36million
BUDGET plans from the local fire service could send its debt spiralling to £36million in five years.
The figure is more than a third of the value of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service's entire property estate.
Councillors at the fire authority have approved a 1.99 per cent council tax rise to plug a funding gap left by the third-worst grant cut in the country by the Government.
Its share of bills in the two counties will rise by £1.47 a year – less than three pence per week – following a three per cent rise in its precept last year.
2 Bedroom Furnished Flat On Greenbank Road £560 PCMView details
Comprising Open Plan Kitchen/Lounge, Master Bedroom, 2nd Bedroom, Bathroom With Shower, Allocated Parking. Council Tax Band A. EPC Rating Band E. Av. 15/07/13 For 6 Mths & Ongoing. No Pets/Smokers/HB
Terms: ***NB: Please be advised that charges are applicable per application and subject to contract. No additional charges are required for the Tenancy Agreement or Inventory unless stated otherwise.***
Contact: 01752 421825
Valid until: Sunday, September 01 2013
By keeping its precept increase below two per cent, members avoided triggering an automatic referendum, demanded by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, which would have cost around £2.3million.
But its plan, which centres around scaling back the largest fleet of fire engines outside London by ushering in a new "light response pump", will see the authority shatter its debt ceiling of five per cent by 2019.
Treasurer Kevin Woodward said the projected debt would need to be paid off by an increase in revenue from commercial activities.
However, he described the predicted overspend – debt currently stands at £4.6million – as equivalent to a 36 per cent mortgage on the service's £100million property estate.
"It is sizeable amount of money which will need to be mitigated as much as possible by any surpluses in the commercial area," he told a meeting of the authority yesterday.
The emergency service announced plans last month to shed 150 jobs voluntarily in response to a grant cut by £5.5million, or 17 per cent, over two years.
Its controversial corporate plan also seeks to scale down three of Plymouth's seven crews to "on-call".
Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said rural operations found it harder to make savings than their urban counterparts, who have more whole-time staff and scope for cuts or changes.
He told the authority meeting, at fire service headquarters in Clyst St George, outside Exeter, that a disposal list of estate property, including 85 mostly rural fire stations, would be drawn up.
But he warned that he was "limited" as to how much he could do without "compromising operational performance".
Former East Devon District Council chief Sara Randall Johnson, a member of the fire authority, led moves to freeze council tax and collect the Government's £459,000 reward grant.
But the motion was defeated at the meeting, by 15 votes to eight, with one abstention.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) backed the rise in bills but said the corporate plan under consultation would leave the public waiting longer for a fire engine.
Speaking after the meeting, FBU chairman in the two counties Bob Walker said he "dreaded to think" what would have to be cut without the two per cent rise.
"But taking away fire engines from the front line is not the way forward for the general public," he added.