Fire chiefs to demand answers over ‘broken’ funding

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Fire chiefs want answers from ministers over a ‘broken’ funding system which they say has stripped cash from the most deprived areas.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority has seen its spending power slashed by almost a fifth since 2010, when the government started cutting budgets.

This has left Tyne and Wear the third worst hit in England, behind only Cleveland and the West Midlands.

But at the same time, some fire brigades in more affluent parts of the country, such as Bedfordshire and Shropshire, have seen their finances increase

“Our risk has gone up, not down,” Coun Nick Forbes, TWFRA’s vice chairman leader of Newcastle City Council, told the authority meeting.

“It’s right to ask the minister to justify why core spending power for us has gone down and some other authorities have gone up.

“What has changed in these authorities?”

TWFRA, along with most other English fire authorities, saw a slight increase in its funding in the government’s provisional Local Government Finance Settlement – but at 1.5 per cent it was barely half the 2.8 per cent average increase across the country.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther and fire authority chairman Coun Barry Curran are due to meet fire and policing minister Nick Hurd later this week to discuss funding.

This is likely to include the use of cash reserves to plug gaps in spending plans.

In Tyne and Wear, most of the authority’s savings are already earmarked for improvements to stations and replacement fire engines.

Coun Forbes said: “Our reserves are allocated for particular purposes and the expectation is our reserves will half over the next few years as we use them for specific purposes.”

He added: “The idea that reserves are there to be burned through and used to balance the books is a fallacy.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service